TWO men killed aboard the Sage Sagittarius coal ship or "Death Ship" died as a result of "foul play", according to the NSW Coroner who has spent more than two years investigating the fatalities.

She has examined the deaths of the ship's cook who vanished overboard in August 2012, his disappearance followed two weeks later by the killing of the chief engineer who fell 11m to his death.

Chief cook Cesar Llanto, 42, faced one of two fates, she said. He was either thrown overboard or killed then his body dumped later.

Top engineer Hector Collado, 55, suffered a blow to his skull before he fell 11m from the ship's upper deck to his death.

Ms Freund found he was "struck over the head with some kind of weapon". He was then either thrown over or fell over the railing.

She does not give any finding on who were responsible for the two deaths on board.

A third worker on the Sagittarius was killed when the ship returned to Japan in October 2012. It was beyond the reach of this inquest, but Ms Freund has recommended her findings be delivered to Japanese investigators.

The Coronial Inquest followed a major investigation by News Corp Australia into the suspicious circumstances of the death. That investigation later led to a Senate Inquiry into foreign shipping.

Ship owners NYK said they would consider the findings.




EARLIER: One ship, two dead: "Death Ship" findings to come today

AFTER two years of investigating two unexplained fatalities in Australian waters, including one off the Queensland coastline, the NSW Coroner is today set to release the findings of a major inquest.

The Coroner's Court is expected to release the results of the probe at 9.30am in Sydney.

On August 30, 2012, the ship's senior cook Cesar Llanto vanished from the ship off the Queensland coast. His remains were never recovered.

Just two weeks later at the Port of Newcastle, the ship's senior engineer Hector Collado was in a storeroom when he suffered a blow to his skull moments before he fell from a high railing and plunged 11m to his death.

Japanese owned Sage Sagittarius bulk carrier CONTRIBUTED
Japanese owned Sage Sagittarius bulk carrier CONTRIBUTED

Capt Salas was leading the MV Sage Sagittarius coal carrier when the two men were killed amid allegations the captain was part of the physical and emotional abuse of selected crew members.

The third death on board was that of safety supervisor Kosaku Monji who had been dispatched to the ship to calm the crew after the first death. He was crushed to death by machinery while the ship was docked at a Japanese port.

An investigation by News Corp Australia into the deaths prompted the coronial inquest into the deaths of Llanto and Collado, announced in mid-2015.

Since then, the inquest has heard allegations that Capt Salas physically abused a gay crew member and illegally sold guns on board.

Capt Salas confirmed both of those allegations to the court.

The Coroner has also heard evidence suggesting Capt Salas deleted information from the ship's voice data recorder - akin to a plane's black box - at the time of both Australian deaths. 

Capt Salas has consistently maintained his innocence in relation to the two deaths on board the Sage Sagittarius that are the subject of the inquest.

"The deaths occurred in intense and building conflict," he said.

In relation to the death of the ship's chief cook, Mr Strickland told the court "Capt Salas either caused or authorised the disappearance, or at least he knows about it".

Mr Strickland also pointed to evidence showing Mr Collado fearfully told his family to bring separate cars for his arrival back in the Philippines. He had also told others on board he was scared for his own safety.

"On balance, your honour will find Hector Collado died as a result of foul play but it is a more difficult finding than Cesar Llanto," Mr Strickland said.

The International Transport Workers Federation that represents seafarers has called for Captain Salas to be charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice.

On Wednesday morning, the ITF also targeted the "flags of convenience" or FOC system of international shipping that allows Western companies to register vessels in developing countries that lack the scrutiny of their home countries.

"We will be particularly interested in what the Coroner has to say about the FOC System which Australia now completely relies on for our domestic trade and fuel security," Mr Summers said.

"The triple unexplained deaths in 2012 on board the ship, trading between Newcastle and Japan, sparked a federal police investigation and subsequent Senate Inquiry.

"Earlier this month the Federal Government effectively dismissed all of the senate FOC inquiry's recommendations. 

"This ignores the ABF's warnings of national security threats and encourages future exploitation of foreign workers like those on BP and Caltex coastal tankers working for $1.25 per hour. "

In closing remarks made to the inquest late last year, counsel assisting Philip Strickland said "detailed evidence suggests foul play", particularly given the "deep conflict aboard". 

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