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Sea service for Tonga ferry dead

25 August 09 10:58 GMT

Tonga has held a memorial service at sea for the 74 people who died when a ferry sank nearly three weeks ago.

The Princess Ashika went down in the South Pacific, 86km (53 miles) north-west of Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa.

There were 54 survivors but only two bodies were recovered and the other 72 victims remain unaccounted for.

The service was attended by survivors, relatives of the missing people, members of the Tongan royal family and Prime Minister Feleti Seveli.

New Zealand naval vessels have filmed the Princess Ashika lying intact on the ocean floor at a depth of about 110 metres (360 feet).

It is not known why the ferry sank. The crew sent an emergency message at about 2300 on 5 August. Survivors said it sank within minutes.

Those unaccounted for are believed to have been on lower decks and went down with the vessel.

Divers are unable to recover bodies of the victims as the water is too deep. Specialised salvage equipment would have to be brought in at a cost of millions of dollars to the Tongan government.

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