Australia Monitored Death Ship Master for Eighteen Years
An Australian senate inquiry has revealed that Venancio Salas Junior, captain of the "Death Ship" Sage Sagittarius, was known to Australian authorities for almost 18 years, but it was local media, rather than the nation’s Department of Border Protection that alerted authorities of his return to the country.
Australia’s Department of Border Protection has been forced to defend its monitoring of foreign sailors after Salas was discovered on a ship at the Port of Gladstone in February by Australian regional media. He was wanted for questioning by the New South Wales Coroner at the time and was subsequently subpoenaed to appear at an inquest underway into the death of two Filipinos as the ship approached Australia in late 2012.
A Senate Inquiry into flag of convenience shipping asked Border Protection officers to explain how the captain, who has previously confessed to selling guns and assaulting a gay crewman, was able to return to Australian seemingly unnoticed. Border Protection confirmed it had "holdings" on Salas relating to a range of interactions since December 24, 1994, and authorities had boarded the Sage Sagittarius on a number of occasions.
Salas had returned to Australia on board the bulk carrier Kypros Sea, and Senate committee chair Glen Sterle said a “gaping hole” has been exposed in national security involving foreign flag of convenience ships.
Sage Sagittarius has been dubbed the Death Ship after three crew members died under suspicious circumstances over a six week period between August and October 2012.
The on-going coronial inquest is examining the first two deaths that occurred on Sage Sagittarius. Cesar Llanto, 42, disappeared overboard as the vessel approached Australian waters northeast of Cairns. Chief engineer Hector Collado, 57, died as a result of an 11-meter (36 foot) fall on board the bulk carrier. The third death, that of Japanese superintendent Kosaku Monji, who was crushed to death on a conveyor belt, is beyond the scope of the enquiry as it occurred when the ship was docked in Japan.
Last year, the inquest heard that Salas regularly bullied galley worker Jessie Martinez. On one occasion, he allegedly punched him so hard he struggled for breath for days afterwards.
The captain also admitted to selling guns to crew members and taking a commission. Most of the crew members on board were armed. ABC News reports that, when pressed, Salas admitted to collecting the gun brochures and permits from the crew before the Sage Sagittarius docked in Newcastle to prevent the Australian Federal Police from finding them.
Australia announced the Senate inquiry into flag of convenience shipping last year after a Four Corners program highlighted the suspicious deaths on the Sage Sagittarius.