Help on hand for survivors of Tongan ferry tragedy

Published: 6 August 2009 0:00 CET

Lasse Norgaard and Patrick Fuller, IFRC

More than twenty volunteers from the Ha’apai branch of the Tonga Red Cross are working closely with the local police force to provide food, drink, blankets and comfort for the 53 survivors of the ‘MV Princess Ashika’ ferry, which sank in the early hours of 6 August.

The ferry, which was carrying 86 passengers and crew on board went down at approximately 1:30 in the morning as it was traveling from the capital Nuku’alofa to Ha’afeva. Two people are known to have died and 31 people remain missing.

As part of its disaster management programme, the Tonga Red Cross had stockpiles of emergency relief goods locally available. This meant that volunteers could provide immediate help to the arriving survivors who have now been temporarily housed at a church building in Panagai Ha’apai. The Tonga Red Cross Society also set up a Restoring Family Links unit, which is operating 24 hours to assist people who may have missing relatives.

Rescue teams continue to search for further survivors. The hull of the ship reportedly split into two sections before sinking. According to Ms. Teisa, one of the Tonga Red Cross volunteers at the scene, “the survivors are still deeply traumatised by the tragedy. When I saw them arrive at the wharf of Ha’apai, 90 per cent of them were completely lost. Only one person was able to talk amongst the 53 survivors.”