Sage Sagittarius.
Sage Sagittarius.

Death Ship: Owners, managers face accusations of cover-up

ALLEGATIONS of a cover-up have hit those in charge of the now-notorious "death ship" as key documents from a coronial inquest contradict official company statements.

Three sailors aboard the Sage Sagittarius coal carrier died over six weeks from August to October in 2012.

Filipino Chief cook Cesar Llanto and chief engineer Hector Collado both died in Australian waters.

The inquest has heard each of these fatalities are suspicious.

Japanese safety superintendent Kosaku Monji died weeks after Mr Collado as the Sagittarius docked in Japan.

Court documents tendered to the New South Wales coronial inquest into the deaths now cast doubt on public statements made by Sagittarius owners NYK Line and subsidiary managers Hachiuma Steamship.


Hachiuma manager Naoya Miyasaka claimed in early 2014 there was no evidence to show the deaths aboard were anything other than accidents. Emails given to the coroner suggest otherwise.

An email sent from an NYK staffer in Japan to an Australian colleague on September 1, the day after Mr Llanto's death, suggested there was a "possibility of murder".

On September 14 at the Port of Newcastle, chief engineer Hector Collado fell 11m to his death. The inquest has since heard the fall followed a blow to the sailor's skull.

The Australian staffer wrote to Japanese colleague that day to say NSW Police were "90% certain that the death of the C/Eng [chief engineer] is a homicide".

Hachiuma managing director Captain Hitoshi Kamei said he saw no conflict between Mr Miyasaka's statements and emails suggesting the deaths could be murders.

Aboard the death ship: An Australian Regional Media investigation
Aboard the death ship: An Australian Regional Media investigation

International Transport Workers Federation Australia coordinator Dean Summers said the company seemed to be covering up what happened.

"Every part of this reeks of Hachiuma being in damage control for a series of circumstances that they're not going to tell us about," he said.

Another claim made by Mr Miyasaka was that the firm had run its own investigation into the three deaths "since the first incident".

That position changed at the inquest hearing on Monday when Hachiuma executive Kazuhiro Hayashi said a formal internal investigation was planned, but never occurred.

Mr Kamei backed his executive's evidence by email this week, saying the company was "not qualified to embark upon what was essentially a police investigation".

When asked for further clarification, Capt Kamei then said there was an internal investigation.

He failed to answer questions on whether this investigation was completed, abandoned or under way.

A response to follow-up questions about the state of this investigation were not supplied before deadline on Friday.

Hawke-era Transport Minister Peter Morris, who led a world-renowned inquiry into international shipping, said "well-run companies" would do an in-house examination even if criminal investigations were launched.

"If something breaks down within the business or events occur, I would assume they would," he said.

"Above all, they would want to be aware of what's happening in their business."

Questions over the credibility of Hachiuma and NYK line come as the inquest into its ship held its second set of hearings.

Deputy Coroner Sharon Freund heard the ship's recorder - akin to a black box on an aircraft - was either off or not working when each of the three men died.

She later heard allegations from a former crew member that Sagittarius Captain Venancio Salas threatened those on board by saying, "Wherever you hide, I can find you".

The crew member, unnamed for legal reasons, told the inquest he suspected Capt Salas may have been responsible for the death of Mr Llanto.

Capt Salas has previously told the inquest he suspected a crewman on board had a hand in the cook's death.

In April, the inquest heard Capt Salas was selling guns to the crew and was physically abusive towards a gay kitchenhand.

The inquest resumes in September.

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