93 people missing in Tongan ferry disaster

August 8, 2009 4:04:36 PM PDT
Ninety-three people were missing and feared dead Sunday after their ferry flipped and sank off Tonga, as divers continued to try and locate the sunken vessel in the deep waters off the South Pacific nation. Police Chief Inspector Sokopeti To'ia told The Associated Press on Sunday the latest count of those aboard the ill-fated ferry was 149, up from an earlier count of 141. Of those, 54 were rescued and two bodies recovered, leaving 93 missing. The confirmed dead were a British man living in New Zealand and a Polynesian woman.

To'ia said the total number of missing could rise again or decrease as police try to sort out exactly who was aboard the Princess Ashika when it went down at midnight Wednesday while carrying passengers and cargo from the capital, Nuku'alofa, to outlying northern islands.

Navy divers from Australia and New Zealand arrived Saturday to help comb the wreck for bodies, but were unable to locate the vessel in their first attempt, To'ia said. Although water clarity was good, the sea bed where the ferry went down is uneven and up to 330 feet (100 meters) deep in places, making conditions difficult, To'ia said.


Gelineau contributed to this report from Sydney, Australia.