Operation Ashika Assist
Australian and New Zealand navy divers and other personnel were deployed to the Kingdom of Tonga in August 2009 under Operation Ashika Assist, following the sinking of an inter-island ferry.he sinking of MV Princess Ashika was Tonga’s worst ferry disaster. With at least 149 people believed to be onboard the Princess Ashika, there were 54 survivors but many people unaccounted for after the ferry sank.
Government sends Navy dive team to Tonga, Minister for Defence John Faulkner, media release MIN16/09, 7 August 2009.
“Defence Minister John Faulkner today announced that the Australian Government is providing the Tongan Government with a Royal Australian Navy clearance dive team, air transport and associated medical support to help recover the bodies from the island’s worst ferry disaster in thirty years.
“ ‘The Tongan Government has asked for assistance and later today the Australian Defence Force will deploy a specialist Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force team to assist the Tongans recover the bodies of missing passengers,’ Senator Faulkner said.
A Royal New Zealand Air Force P3K Orion has confirmed the location of the ferry’s hull in relatively shallow water.
Australian Defence Force personnel depart for Tonga, Department of Defence media release MSPA 251/09, 7 August 2009.
“The departure later this evening of a Royal Australian Navy clearance diving team on a Royal Australian Air Force C130 Hercules from RAAF Base Richmond will mark the commencement of Operation Ashika Assist, the Australian Defence Forces response to the Government of Tonga’s request for assistance to recover human remains from the ferry ‘Princess Ashika’.
“The clearance dive team consists of 16 personnel and is capable of operating to depths of 50 metres. The specialist navy divers will deploy with underwater cutting and lifting tools as well as an imagery and sonar capability. This team also includes medical specialists with a deployable decompression chamber in the event of an emergency. The clearance dive team is led by LEUT Charles Fennell and based out of HMAS Waterhen in Sydney.
“The RAAF C130 Hercules is due to depart RAAF Richmond this evening. The deployed ADF elements will commence assisting the Tongan authorities from Saturday, 8 August and diving operations will commence as soon as practicable.”
Operation Ashika Assist cease operations, Department of Defence website, 14 August 2009.
“Sonar imagery of the vessel suspected to be the sunken ferry MV Princess Ashika has been released as Australian Navy divers complete their commitment to OP Ashika Assist. The imagery from the Royal New Zealand Navy’s REMUS (Remote Environment Measuring Underwater System) detachment revealed a vessel on the ocean floor with dimensions matching those of the ferry which sank in waters SSW of Nomuka in the Ha’apai group of islands.
“HMNZS Manawanui is due to arrive in Tonga on Saturday 15 August, and will provide a platform from which to launch the ROV. The RNZN Operational Dive Team regularly uses the HMNZS Manawanui as a dive platform. The vessel uses a four point mooring system and can anchor in the 110m of water surrounding the sunken vessel.
“Meanwhile divers of AUSCDT ONE packed the equipment they deployed to Tonga at His Majesty’s Naval Base Masefield (Touliki). Earlier in the week AUSCDT ONE divers established that the floating mooring line attached to the MV Princess Ashika extended beyond the deployed diving capabilities of both AUSCDT ONE and ODT. The divers from both teams battled rough seas aboard the Tongan patrol boat VOEA Pangai.”
Navy clearance divers complete mission in Tonga, Department of Defence media release MSPA 267/09, 14 August 2009.
“The Tongan Government has advised Australia that the assistance provided by Royal Australian Navy Clearance Divers to help search for the MV Princess Ashika is now complete. This follows an announcement on Wednesday that the joint Tongan, Australian and New Zealand naval task force assigned to search for and, if possible, recover bodies from the vessel had identified its location.
“Sonar Imagery from the Royal New Zealand Navy’s REMUS (Remote Environment Measuring Underwater System) detachment revealed a vessel on the ocean floor with dimensions matching those of the ferry which sank in waters South West of Nomuka in the Ha’apai group of islands. The vessel is sitting in 110m of water, and has a bow section, bridge, passenger accommodation and cargo bays matching those of the MV Princess Ashika. At a depth of 110m, the vessel is beyond the capability of the Clearance Dive Team. They will now return to their base at HMAS Waterhen. Executive Officer of the Australian Clearance Dive Team One, Lieutenant Ben Fennell, says his team wishes they could have done more.”
Updated 25 August 2009