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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Help on the way for Tonga Ferry Victims

There is often a strained relationship between Tongan business owners and the Chinese business owners who operate here.   The Tongans like the cheap prices and the regular hours of the Chinese stores but there is resentment because they have put many Tongan shops out of business.

By law, only Tongans can operate grocery stores in the Kingdom.  But a few years ago, the former King sold Tongan passports which effectively allowed many Chinese to become Tongan residents and business owners.  Even though the practice of selling passports was quickly stopped, the Chinese continue to take market share away from the Tongans.

Today, the owners of all the Chinese stores in Tonga announced they were going to donate TOP$50,000 to help pay for the funerals of the 93 people who are still missing and presumed dead after the sinking of the Ashika ferry last week.   In addition, a local money transfer company is kicking in an additional TOP$10,000 and a local Tongan Kava group has raised TOP$300.00 to assist.  (TOP$2.00 is about  US$1.00)

Here in Vava’u, a fund has been created by many of the local tourism related business owners.  So far, thanks to contributions from tourists who are here and from those businesses, that fund has about TOP$800 in it.

There is also talk that the Tongan government may help with some of the funeral expenses and the boat was insured by Lloyds of London, which could provide additional funds.

A funeral is very expensive in Tonga.   A family will easily spend TOP$3000 to TOP$5000 to bury a loved one and sometimes even more.    It is expected that the government will declare the missing “officially dead” later today or tomorrow.   The funerals will start all over Tonga immediately afterwards with a photo of the deceased substituting for their final remains.

The Washington Post has a comprehensive story about the Tonga Ferry disaster today.   And all around Vava’u, many people, myself included, continue to wear black in memory of those lost.

For additional information about the ferry sinking, I’ve updated my post from yesterday with new information.

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