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New Zealand navy finds sunken Tongan ferry

A remotely operated submarine has found the ferry that sunk near the Pacific Island nation of Tonga almost two weeks ago, with the loss of at least 95 lives, the New Zealand navy said today.

The submarine was able to identify a vessel found on the seabed as the Princess Ashika, but was unable to gain access to the passenger compartments, where it is believed the bodies of most of the missing people are trapped.

"Although the team are very happy to have formally identified the Princess Ashika, they are frustrated and disappointed at not being able to provide any further information that may bring closure to the Tongan people," Lieutenant Commander Andrew McMillan said in a statement. The wreck is lying upright in about 110 metres (361 feet) of water, but the navy said the view of the passenger compartment is obstructed.

The ferry issued a distress call at about 11pm local time on August 5, about 86 kilometres (53 miles) northeast of the Tongan capital Nuku'alofa, on a trip to Ha'afeva, in the Nomuka Islands Group.

Fifty-four people were rescued but the majority of passengers were believed to be asleep below decks, and were trapped as the ferry reportedly sunk in about a minute.

The sinking has rocked the small nation of about 121,000 people, with questions raised over the seaworthiness of the ageing ferry. There was also confusion over the initial passenger list, with early reports saying 27 people were unaccounted for. The exact number of missing people is still not known, but it is believed there were at least 149 people on the ship.


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