Aboard The Death Ship pt3: Three dead, and the search begins
- A coronial inquest has begun into two deaths aboard the Japanese MV Sage Sagittarius - dubbed the "death ship".
- Chief cook Cesar Llanto disappeared from the ship on August 30.
- On September 4, engineer Hector Collado fell 11m to his death. Both are considered suspicious.
- The inquest has already heard allegations of homophobic abuse, gun-running and bullying.
- On October 6, five weeks after Mr Llanto disappeared, safety superintendent Kosaku Monji was killed in an apparent industrial accident in Japan. This is mostly out of the coroner's jurisdiction.
- After almost two years of investigation, Australian Regional Media can for the first time present the full detail of what happened on board the Sage Sagittarius.
ONE ship. Three men dead in five weeks.
By November the Australian Federal Police, New South Wales Police and others were chasing all 23 crew members on board at the time of the first death for information.
Ship owners Hachiuma Steamship and managers NYK Line maintain they cooperated fully with Australian authorities.
Nevertheless, it took the AFP close to four months to track down those on its witness list.
Eight were living in Philippines and willing to talk to police, 11 were back at sea on other ships and four "were unable to be located".
A world away from the ship where his friend disappeared, Martinez told of routine physical and emotional abuse from the Sagittarius captain Venancio Salas.
Martinez was outed as gay by a colleague after arriving for his first stint aboard a trade ship.
He told how word spread and soon "most other crew members bullied teased and humiliated him" according to an AFP report handed to the coroner early last year.
According to Martinez, Captain Salas punched him in the chest, the kidney and hit him with a slipper on separate occasions.
Martinez's recounting of events was almost in complete opposition to the formal statement he submitted to police and the company via the captain following the cook's death.
On August 31, the day after the chief cook's death he wrote:
"I know that captain is just molding and helping me to become a skilled, matured and strong seafarer.
"I don't see wrong with it rather, I admire captain for his own accomplishments and the honor that he gave for the vessel for my family… it is evidently that he is an excellent captain".
Death Ship: An ARM investigation
Martinez and another colleague told the AFP Salas was also running a gun-selling racket aboard the ship.
An electrician named Harvey Penoliar told of feeling pressured to pay Salas $US625 for a 9mm pistol. That is more than many seafarers on board earned in a month.
The bought guns would be delivered to the sailor's homes after their contracts ran out.
When the cook vanished, "Salas told everyone to throw away the gun brochures", according to Mr Penoliar.
He added that Capt Salas once stopped the ship to swap alcohol for seafood with a passing trawler.
Both acts are in breach of the ship's code of conduct and would put the captain's job at risk if reported to the ship's owners or managers.
Neither of these were raised by the AFP when officers met Salas, due to "a lack of jurisdiction".
Mr Penoliar said only engine worker Raul Vercede and one other crew member refused to buy a handgun from Salas.
Salas has previously told the AFP he suspected Mr Vercede might have been involved in the death of the chief cook.
An engineer told the AFP how he asked Mr Vercede "what really happened" to the cook.
He said: "Vercede (turned) his head slightly away while smirking then said words similar to 'No one is going to find him'."
Mr Vercede, Mr Peloliar and Mr Martinez had all left the ship by the time of the Mr Collado's death.
During their investigations, the AFP was told by Mr Collado's wife Rebecca that she suspected Capt Salas was afraid her husband might "whistleblow" against him, though she did not know what about.
In the report delivered to the coroner, the AFP investigating officer did not give any suggestion as to how the chief cook or engineer were killed, except to say Llanto is "believed to be deceased" and the AFP "cannot exclude suicide, accident or foul play as the cause of (Mr) Llanto's departure from the vessel and subsequent death".