Death Ship: "Gaping Hole" in Australian Security
Australia’s Senate inquiry into flag of convenience shipping has issued the Department of Immigration and Border Protection a ‘please explain’ over why it allegedly allowed the captain of the Sage Sagittarius to slip into Australia unchecked.
Captain Venancio Salas, the former captain of the Sage Sagittarius had returned to Australia on board the bulk carrier Kypros Sea in February.
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.
Senate committee chair Glen Sterle said a “gaping hole” has been exposed in national security involving foreign flag of convenience ships.
Despite an outstanding New South Wales coroner’s subpoena for Salas over two of the deaths, he has been allowed to return to work in Australian waters and was only called into the on-going coronial inquiry in February after local media exposed his presence in Australia.
“It’s a well-known fact, the captain has admitted to gunrunning, if I remember rightly, organized crime and bashings, and now I'd like to think that was a red flag,” Sterle said.
“There’s a massive gaping hole here. Someone needs to be accountable,” Sterle told SBS News after the hearing. “I mean what else and who else has been entering our ports? What else has been coming into our ports? Who else has gone missing? And are we sure the people that get off these ships, these foreign seafarers, are the same that get back on these ships?”
Salas denied involvement in the deaths on the Sage Sagittarius, and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection issued him with a Maritime Crew Visa to re-enter Australia.
Flag of Convenience Inquiry
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. There were 24 submissions to the inquiry including one from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection which says the use of flag of convenience ships are more attractive for use in illegal activities. The submission also states that these ships, with complex financial and ownership arrangements, can be shrouded in secrecy making it difficult to hold anyone to account for injuries and deaths on board.
The submission stated: “The department notes that while a significant proportion of legitimate sea trade is conducted by ships with flag of convenience registration, there are features of flag of convenience registration, regulation and practice that organized crime syndicates or terrorist groups may seek to exploit.
“This means that flag of convenience ships may be used in a range of illegal activities, including illegal exploitation of natural resources, illegal activity in protected areas, people smuggling and facilitating prohibited imports and exports.”
Death Ship Inquest
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.
Australian Customs and Border Protection officials raided the Sage Sagittarius 13 times in the three years before the deaths occurred.