How the Death Ship captain made it into Gladstone
BORDER security officials have told a Senate Inquiry how a gun-running ship captain linked to the suspicious deaths of two sailors was not risky enough to trigger an automatic alert on his return to Australia.
A coronial inquest found the first sailor died as a result of "foul play" and evidence "strong suggested" former Sage Sagittarius or "death ship" captain Venancio Salas Jr either "caused or authorised" the deaths or knew what happened.
NSW Deputy Coroner Sharon Freund concluded the second sailor also met with foul play and that it would be an "extraordinary coincidence" if the same person or persons were not responsible.
Captain Salas has denied consistently he has had any part in the murders of the two men and no charges have been laid.
The failure of the Department of Border Protection and its Australian Border Force to monitor Captain Salas meant he was able to work along the Australian coastline in 2015 and 2016.
At the time, NSW Police wanted to speak to Captain Salas and the coronial inquest was keen to hear his evidence.
Border authorities acted only after a News Corp Australia journalist delivered the captain's location to the inquest in person.
Acting on that advice in early 2016, Australian Border Force rushed to Gladstone to subpoena Captain Salas and bring him to face two days of intense questioning. He was just hours away from leaving the country.
Border Protection bureaucrats confirmed Captain Salas did not have an "alert" on his name, meaning there was no warning as he entered our waters.
Queensland Nationals Senator Barry O'Sullivan was shocked to learn that Captain Salas was free to work along the Australian coastline.
"So Captain Salas, who is a suspect for these murders and events, confessed to gun-running ... he did not qualify for a red flag within this alert system?" Senator O'Sullivan said.
Officials told the inquiry last week the department held "intel" on the two deaths compiled by the Australian Federal Police, NSW Police and the former Customs department.
But that intelligence, which would later help a coroner find that both sailors met with foul play and either fell or were thrown overboard, did not convince border authorities that Captain Salas was a threat worthy of an "alert".
Senator O'Sullivan, a former detective, was horrified at the revelations.
"You have left me once more very concerned about the security arrangements in your agencies, if someone like Captain Salas does not qualify for a red flag," Senator O'Sullivan said.
"You might not want to know, but I suspect that ordinary Australians would want to know when the Salases of the world are in our ports. ... I don't give a rat's arse where they are coming from or where they are going.
"We need to know when these sorts of people are in our company."
It has been only weeks since Senator O'Sullivan's own Coalition government rejected this inquiry's calls to scrutinise port and ship security.
The revelations by top Border Protection bureaucrats also follow the department's own submission which described foreign ships as being "attractive for use in illegal activity".