After a two-year investigation into the deaths of two foreign seafarers on the Sage Sagittarius, dubbed the Death Ship, Australia has determined that they met with foul play at the hands of other, unidentified people on board.
The chief cook, Caesar Llanto, disappeared overboard in August 2012, and chief engineer Hector Collado was killed while the ship was docking at the Port of Newcastle two weeks later.
A third crew member, Kosaku Monji, died weeks later on board the same ship whilst it was moored in Japan.
Handing down her findings, the Coroner, Sharon Freund, said Llanto, an experienced veteran, was either thrown overboard or killed and his body later disposed of.
"I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that Mr Llanto died as a result of foul play by a person or persons on the vessel."
Collado was found to have plummeted 12 meters (40 feet) down an engineering shaft, and Freund says: "The injury that Mr Collado sustained before he fell over the handrail on the fourth deck is consistent with someone hitting him forcefully over the head.
"It would be an extraordinary coincidence if the person(s) who caused Mr Llanto's death were not also responsible for Mr Collado's death."
Nearly 11 hours of audio was found to be missing from a voyage data recorder across the period Llanto disappeared. "The omission of such data in my view is highly significant and suspicious," says Freund.
The inquest found the companies involved, Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) and Hachiuma Steamship, were not complicit in the actions of the crew or involved in any cover-up. However, Fruend was critical of NYK for failing to tell Japanese authorities about the first two deaths when "there was every good reason to so inform them."
She says the inquest has “highlighted the fact there are very significant practical impediments created by a disappearance or death on board a foreign flagged vessel” and recommends that Australian police, maritime and transport agencies form a permanent group to help investigate any deaths or disappearances from international ships bound for Australia.
In June 2015, the Australian Senate moved that the increasing use of so-called flag of convenience shipping in Australia be referred to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee for inquiry and report.
“What we have seen from the inquiry today is that the worst possible outcome has occurred by allowing flag of convenience ships to operate in our waters without proper regulation from the Federal Government,” Committee Chair Senator Glenn Sterle said.
In early May of this year, the committee made nine recommendations which sought to encourage the Government to fully analyze the security risks flag of convenience ships pose. The Government effectively dismissed all of them, says Sterle.
“The Coroner’s report today reinforces all of the other evidence which has been provided to the committee and should ring alarm bells. This government is putting at risk the lives of seafarers as well as our national security,” says Sterle.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) Australian Coordinator Dean Summers says: “Three men were killed in just over five weeks on board the Sage Sagittarius, which was captained by a gun selling, stand-over-man who was transferred to another flag of convenience ship working exclusively on the Australian coast for a year after the 2012 deaths.”
Summers said the inquest had highlighted the lawlessness on Australia's coast brought by the flag of convenience system.