Lives and Donated Ambulance Lost in Tongan Ferry Accident

August 13, 2009

On August 5, a ferry carrying an ambulance that had been donated and supplied by First United Methodist Church of Bakersfield and several sister churches capsized in the Pacific Ocean during the journey to its destination in Tonga.


The Rev. Richard Thompson, pastor of Bakersfield First, led an UMVIM team that served in Tonga from July 21 through August 4. (See April 30 Instant Connection stories, Mission Minute: Churches Partner to Ship Ambulance to Tonga and Tonga Mission Trip Planned for Summer, or visit the church's Missions & Outreach page.) While there one of his goals was to ensure that this ambulance, which had arrived in Tonga, reached the correct island. It was being transported from the capital, Nuku'alofa, to outlying northern islands when the ferry went down.


The cause of the disaster was not known. Despite mild weather, survivors said the ferry was rocking violently side to side, with waves breaking the lower deck, before it overturned and broke apart. Some 85 people were listed as missing and feared dead - many of them women and children - while all of the 54 known survivors of the tragedy were men. Only two bodies had been recovered, that of a British man living in New Zealand and a Polynesian woman, according to CBS News.


It is traditional for male passengers on Tongan ferries to remain outside, while women and children are given cabin-type sleeping accommodations, and it is feared that all the women and children may have been trapped below decks.


Andrew G. Irwin of Bakersfield FUMC expressed the congregation's reaction to the news: "Let us cry out to God for miracles in rescuing those who are still missing, for comfort for those who mourn and will be mourning for many days to come, and for provision in the face of loss."


(To read CBS news reports of the accident, visit and type "Tonga ferry" into the search box.)