Monday, August 10, 2009

What if?

What if some man-made disaster killed a quarter of a million Americans, the cause was linked to allegations of neglect or incompetence by senior government officials, and just a day or two after the disaster the president left for a holiday in Scotland? What if?

The population of the Kingdom of Tonga is 108,000. Around midnight last Wednesday, the ferry Princess Ashika sank at sea with an estimated 149 people on board. There were 54 survivors — do the math.

Only two bodies have been found, and none of the 33 women and 10 children on board survived. Tragically, they had been given preference for the cabins below decks, and the ship sank so swiftly none had time to wake and escape, along with more than fifty men.

The ferry had just recently been acquired by the Tongan government, but was 34 years old, and only intended as a stopgap measure while a modern replacement was built:

Meanwhile, debate is raging in Tonga about the seaworthiness of the Princess Ashika, which was bought by the government-owned Shipping Corporation of Polynesia, from Fiji just two months earlier.

The MV Pulupaki was the first ship to arrive at the scene and pulled survivors from the water. Its owner, Tu'i Uata, said the Princess Ashika "was in bad shape", Radio New Zealand reported.

Workers trying to take rust out of it when it first arrived in Tonga were able to punch their hammers through the hull of the lower deck, he said.

Missing from the vigils was King Tupou V, who surprised many by leaving for a Scottish holiday soon after the disaster.

Is it any surprise that the King's first name is...


Please take a moment to spare a thought for the people of Tonga. Almost everyone has lost someone they knew and loved.