Monday, August 10, 2009

Tongan tragedy: Niuean policewoman gave life of service

Niuean policewoman Sisiliah Puleheloto was working in the Solomons with the RAMSI police force. She is one of two people confirmed drowned in the Princess Ashika tragedy in Tongan waters. The ferry capsized last Wednesday carrying 141 passengers - 93 people are still missing.

By Linny Folau of Matangi Tonga

NUKU'ALOFA: Energetic and outgoing, young Niuean policewoman Sisiliah Puleheloto is remembered as a happy, smiling person who loved serving her own community and the people in the Solomons. The 24-year-old woman was working on the RAMSI mission before coming to Tonga last week for a joyful reunion with her cousins.

Her Tongan cousin 'Akesa Luani, of Puke in Tongatapu, said Sisiliah was looking forward to a trip on the ferry to the outer islands, and on Wednesday afternoon had boarded the ill-fated Princess Ashika with 'Akesa's brother, Dwenelle, 25.

"Unfortunately the dream holiday has turned into a nightmare, which has cost her life and the lives of many innocent people. I am shocked and still can't get over the fact that Sisiliah is one of the victims and I will never see her happy face again," says 'Akesa, who is now dressed in black.

Gripping seats
Dwenelle, who returned as a survivor, was in tears when recalling the tragedy. He last saw Sisiliah gripping the seats inside the passenger lounge, as the floundering ferry rolled over, swamped by waves in the middle of the night.

Sisiliah remains one of the 93 people who are missing after the ferry sank in Ha'apai waters on Wednesday, August 5.

With one female body recovered so far, 'Akesa feared for the worst and was down at the Longolongo Police station on Saturday morning, August 8, giving police a full description and a photograph of Sisiliah.

"But they said it's not her," she says.

'Akesa's elder sister 'Ana also emailed from New Zealand, trying to find out about Sisiliah. She said her family there are absolutely devastated with the news that she is still missing.

She said that Sisiliah, a New Zealand citizen, a police officer for the Niue Police Force, was currently serving in the Solomon Islands under the Regional Assistance Mission (RAMSI).

She arrived in Tonga for the first time on Monday, August 3, on leave from work. Because it was her first visit, Sisiliah wanted to do some sightseeing and see what it was it like in the outer islands.

"She had so much to live for she enjoyed working and serving the people in the Solomons. And she just had so many dreams and vision for the future," says 'Akesa.

Sisiliah is being described by both her cousins in Tonga and New Zealand as a very outgoing, energetic and down to earth person who was always happy and smiling.

"She loves children, her job and working with the community. We are not giving up hope that she may still be alive out there, waiting for help to come. She's a strong person and I am sure she is out there somewhere," says 'Akesa.

Sisiliah was due back for duty in the Solomons at the end of the month and was to depart Tonga this week.

Dwenelle, who accompanied his cousin, said he happened to go out onto the upper open deck of the ferry to have a smoke and talk with a friend, while Sisiliah remained inside the passengers' lounge.

Then suddenly, as the ferry overturned, the water came up so quickly that he could not get back into the passenger room to help her. He said that as he was gripping onto the seat outside on the deck, he last saw her gripping onto the seats inside the passenger room as well.

"I am thankful that I am alive, but I am still devastated that my cousin didn't make it and is still missing out there," he says tearfully.

Dwenelle had Sisiliah's camera, which showed the happy pictures of her Solomon's service and reunion with her cousins.

Pictured: Top: Policewoman Sisiliah Puleheloto; above: The Princess Ashika. Photos: Matangi Tonga.

More reports at Matangi Tonga

1 comment:

LiikiNius said...

Why is it then, we finally do something when there is a tradegy.
Hurray NZ Government is looking into providing a replacement boat to replace the Princess Ashika and finally the MV Tokelau between Samoa and Tokelau...
Tonga has set up a royal commission into their recent tradegy...TongaAid says there should be a REGIONAL commission into Pacific Ferries...
The Tongan Matua group of Glen inness auckland warns, yes provide a boat but it must be run and crewed from NZ...
a call to return to traditional Tongi'aki or Kalia is not a silly idea...A descendant of Navigators on such the traditional catamarans
believed this would at least provide heaps of employment to the 2ooo per week joining the dole ques