• 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.


AT 8AM on a windy, overcast day on the Coral Sea, about 900km north-east of Mackay, a 42-year-old man vanished from a hulking coal carrier now dubbed the "death ship".

Given the water temperature and conditions, Filipino chief cook Cesar Llanto was dead within 26 hours after vanishing from the MV Sage Sagittarius.

Mr Llanto's death widowed wife Nelia, and left son and daughter Czar and Czarina now 14 and 10 without a father.

She told the inquest on Thursday her husband would not have taken his own life.

As a seaman gone up to 10 months in the year, his wages went almost entirely to support their lives in the Philippines.


The trail of his death begins in the galley, where Mr Llanto worked alongside a gay kitchenhand or "messman" named Jessie Llanto Martinez, no relation.

According to the kitchen hand's own testimony, his abuse and humiliation was routine and involved Sagittarius captain Venancio Salas. 

Former crew members told of the captain punching Mr Martinez and hitting him with a slipper.

After Mr Llanto joined the crew, the harassment subsided. The sailors were wary of a senior crewman sharing the "Llanto" name.

Engine oiler Raul Vercede, a friend of Mr Martinez, wanted him to report the captain's abuse to Australian authorities.

Mr Vercede had a plan.

When the Sagittarius arrived in Newcastle in late August, they would formally complain about the captain to advocates, the International Transport Workers' Federation.

Claims of the captain's gun-dealing, abuse and misuse of his position - all alleged by other sailors along with Mr Vercede - would not go ignored.

Mr Vercede hoped they might be sent home with full pay.

Martinez was scared. Ship managers NYK Line is worth $20 billion and employs 30,000.

When Mr Llanto learned of the plan, he was fiercely against it.

Mr Martinez would not to accuse the captain but Mr Vercede kept pushing the point.

The kitchen hand went to the ship's chief officer at 7.30am on August 30. He worried Mr Vercede might try to report the abuse behind his back.

Mr Llanto walked in to see this meeting between Mr Martinez and the chief officer at 7.47am.

"It's the messman's problem," Mr Llanto said before leaving the room at about 7.55am.

The AFP believe that moments later, Mr Llanto would vanish.

Capt Salas told the AFP he was in his cabin asleep.

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

The captain would meet Mr Martinez just after 8am, following a page from the chief officer.

Mr Vercede was on his way from the engine room to his cabin, crossing paths with chief engineer Hector Collado.

Mr Collado has previously told his family he was worried about his friend Mr Llanto.

The engineer would be the next to die aboard the Sagittarius.

Different recollections put the captain arriving in the kitchen sometime between 8.10am and 8.30am.

Capt Salas was the first to raise the alarm about the missing cook when his breakfast did not arrive.

The ship is searched repeatedly from 9am with no sign of the cook. By 10am the next day, Mr Llanto is presumed dead.

A two-day search and rescue operation led by the Australian Marine Safety Authority found no sign of the cook.

Security guards and a Japanese safety supervisor named Kosaku Monji would arrive by helicopter from Brisbane on September 3 with security guards in an effort to calm the crew.

Mr Monji would become the third fatality on board in five weeks.

Sage Sagittarius.
Sage Sagittarius.

When the search was called off, the Sagittarius ventured first to Port Kembla in New South Wales where AFP officers would transform it into a crime scene.

The Sagittarius would arrive at the Port of Newcastle a week later on September 14.

When it did, chief engineer Collado would be struck on the head then fall 11m to his death.


REVEALED: Where QLD’s 10 new schools will be located

Premium Content REVEALED: Where QLD’s 10 new schools will be located

The location of 10 new schools to open across the state by 2024 has been revealed...

A cold beer with . . . major ‘statewide’ contributor

Premium Content A cold beer with . . . major ‘statewide’ contributor

I pushed out the bar stool, poured two beers and had a chat with Van de Velde about...

Your five-minute guide to the QLD Budget

Premium Content Your five-minute guide to the QLD Budget

Here are the highlights and key numbers