Two Filipino seafarers died as a result of foul play on the so-called “death ship” Sage Sagittarius, amid a culture of silence and blacklisting, a Sydney coroner has found.
The captaincy of the foreign-flagged vessel was “clearly unorthodox” and involved “bullying and intimidation”, NSW Deputy State Coroner Sharon Freund said.
She found the head chef Cesar Llanto, 42, died on August 2012 after either being thrown overboard or killed on the ship and his body disposed of later by a person or persons unknown.
He disappeared off the coast of Cairns and his body has never been found.
Struck multiple times by weapons:
Chief engineer, Hector Collado, 55, died a fortnight later on September 14, from multiple injuries after being struck over the head by some kind of weapon by a person or persons unknown as the ship entered Newcastle, the coroner said.
He was then either thrown over the handrail outside the ship’s storeroom on the second deck or fell over the handrail to his death.
“In my view it would be an extraordinary coincidence if the person(s) who caused Mr Lianto’s death were not also responsible for Mr Collado’s death.”
Ms Freund delivered her findings on Wednesday at Glebe Coroner’s Court after an inquest held over 11 days, in a period of almost 18 months.
She also noted the circumstances of the death of Japanese superintendent, Kosaku Monji, 37, who was crushed in a conveyor belt while the ship was docked at a Japanese port on October 6 2012.
He boarded the ship on September 3, 2012 to investigate Mr Llando’s disappearance and to ensure the safety of the crew.
‘Flag of Convenience’ makes workers vulnerable:
The Japanese-operated vessel carried a Panamanian flag, which is a “flag of convenience” allowing the ship owner to operate principally under the regulatory framework of the flagged nation.
Outside the court, Dean Summers, the national coordinator for the International Transport Workers’ Federation, said the flag of convenience system makes workers vulnerable.
Termed ‘Death Ship’:
“Today the coroner has confirmed that on board the Sage Sagitarius, a flag of convenience ship, sailing to and from Australia, there has been a double murder,” he said.
“This was a murder ship and two men have lost their lives, two families have lost their bread winners, four children have lost their fathers, so it’s a terrible time.”
The coroner said the investigation uncovered evidence of a culture of silence and blacklisting, and the sale of guns by its captain, Venancio Salas jr.
He “clearly did not brook any opposition to his style of leadership” which involved bullying and intimidation.
Crucial audio files missing:
Expert evidence revealed that audio files from the vessel’s bridge were missing from the Voyage Date Recorder (VDR) system for the critical dates of August 30 and September 14.
The coroner said the inquest highlighted the very significant practical impediments created by a disappearance or a death on board a foreign-flagged vessel.
Challenges included interviewing members of the crew – all Filipino nationals, most of whom needed an interpreter – who apparently felt intimidated or scared about what had happened.
Her recommendations included the establishment of a permanent group to liaise, contact and assist with any investigation of the death or suspicious death on board, or disappearance from an international vessel in or bound for Australian waters.
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Source: The West Australian