OWNERS of the Sage Sagittarius, the so-called 'death ship', told investigators that all possible witnesses were taking their vacation and could not be interviewed.
OWNERS of the Sage Sagittarius, the so-called 'death ship', told investigators that all possible witnesses were taking their vacation and could not be interviewed. Fair Use - shipspotting.com

Owners of 'death ship' blocked access to witnesses

INVESTIGATORS were blocked from interviewing key witnesses while examining three deaths aboard a so-called "death ship" after its owners told authorities that crew members were "already taking their vacation".

In late 2012, three men were killed while working on the coal-carrying Sage Sagittarius, earning it the label of "death or murder ship" from Australian maritime advocates.

The New South Wales Coroner is now considering whether to hold an inquest into the deaths.

Because the ship is registered in Panama the three mysterious deaths - including two Filipino seafarers killed in Australian waters - were investigated by a single Panamanian official.

His findings show Sagittarius owners Hachiuma Steamship said its former crew could not be reached because they were "taking their vacation".

His report found, "Nothing [sic] can be interviewed except the (captain) that happened to be on board at Port Kembla in Australia on September 8, 2012.

"The investigator relied only on the statement of facts issued by all officers/crew."

The Sagittarius has previously visited Central Queensland ports of Gladstone and Abbot Point north of Mackay.

It was 80km off the Sunshine Coast last week as it headed towards Japan.

APN this week revealed crew members had accused the ship's captain at the time of abusing subordinates.

According to Hachiuma, the captain resigned voluntarily after the two deaths in August and September 2012.

A third man on board the ship was killed in early October as it began unloading coal in Japan.

Hachiuma general affairs spokesman Naoya Miyasaka said the company co-operated with all investigations into the deaths.


SHIP OWNERS HIRED GUARDS 'TO SOOTHE' THE CREW

TWO guards were hired to protect crew members aboard the Sage Sagittarius after its chief cook disappeared overboard, despite the ship owners claiming neither this death nor the two that followed was suspicious.

The Sagittarius earned the title of "death ship" after three crewmen perished on board in less than two months in late 2012.

Confidential findings by the Panama Maritime Authority that have been leaked to APN Newsdesk show two guards from a Brisbane security firm were put on the Sage Sagittarius coal-carrier two days after the cook's disappearance.

The report found they were to "soothe the remaining crew on-board and to have an investigation that was strongly required (sic)… by the family of missing crew".

By email from Tokyo, Hachiuma general affairs spokesman Naoya Miyasaka said the officers had been a "prudent measure only" while the company attempted to find out why the cook had disappeared.

Mr Miyasaka said after three international investigations by Australian, Japanese and Panamanian authorities as well as its own internal examination, Hachiuma still had "no idea" how three crew members came to die while travelling on the ship.

Although suspicions have been raised by the International Transport Workers' Federation, Mr Miyasaka said the company "has not been privy to, or heard of any evidence to suggest that any of the events were suspicious".

It has now been 21 months since the first crew member was killed on the ship.

The Australian Federal Police and New South Wales Police have given evidence to the NSW Coroner.
 

A CHRONOLOGY OF MYSTERY AND TRAGEDY

Aug 30, 2012: Filipino chief cook Cesar Llanto, 42, vanished overboard 800km north-west of Cairns. Crew members claim he was reporting abuse suffered by a fellow seafarer. Investigators found no way he could fall overboard. Ship diverted to Port Kembla for investigation.

 

Sept 1, 2012: Two security guards from Brisbane dispatched to ship.

Sept 14, 2012: Filipino chief engineer Hector Collado, 57, fell more than 10m to his death while the ship was docked at the Port of Newcastle.

Sept 18, 2012: Entire crew aboard Sagittarius replaced. Japanese safety superintendent Kosaku Monji, 37, joins ship to ensure protection.

Oct 6, 2012: Monji, 37, crushed to death by conveyor belt machinery in Japan.

Jan 5, 2013: Panama Maritime Authority begins investigation.

Sep 19, 2013: Panama publishes confidential report into three deaths.

Sep 27, 2013: Japanese Transport Safety Board publishes report into Mr Monji's death.

Jun 16, 2014: NSW Coroner to consider an inquest into Mr Llanto and Mr Collado's deaths in Australian waters.


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