THE captain of the so-called Death Ship, wanted for questioning in relation to fatalities aboard his former vessel, was working in Australian waters for months without capturing the attention of authorities.

Captain Venancio Salas Jr was served with a subpoena by the Department of Border Protection in February as he arrived at the Port of Gladstone.

The subpoena was delivered after his return to Australia was revealed in an investigation by Australian Regional Media.

A coronial inquest into two deaths aboard Capt Salas's Sage Sagittarius in late 2012 was previously unaware he was back in the country.
 

Captain Venancio Salas Jr's return to Australia was revealed by Australian Regional Media, prompting authorities to issue a subpoena for the Filipino national
Captain Venancio Salas Jr's return to Australia was revealed by Australian Regional Media, prompting authorities to issue a subpoena for the Filipino national

READ: DEATH SHIP CAPTAIN DOCKS IN QUEENSLAND AS INQUEST LOOMS

Capt Salas faced two days of cross-examination at the inquest when he arrived in Sydney.

A Senate Inquiry into foreign shipping grilled senior Border Protection officers on how this lapse could happen.

Chair Senator Glenn Sterle asked officers on Wednesday "what the heck is going on"?

Department of Border Protection first assistant secretary Jim Williams said Capt Salas caught the attention of authorities in January, when they inspected his new ship.

That knowledge of his arrival was not passed on to the coroner investigating the deaths.
 

Sage Sagittarius former captain Venancio Salas Jr leaves the Sydney Coroner's Court on February 18, 2016 after attending a coronial inquest into how two Filipino sailors died on board. PHOTO: OWEN JACQUES
Sage Sagittarius former captain Venancio Salas Jr leaves the Sydney Coroner's Court on February 18, 2016 after attending a coronial inquest into how two Filipino sailors died on board. PHOTO: OWEN JACQUES

By this time Captain Salas had been working on the Cyprus-flagged Kypros Sea ship travelling between Gladstone and Weipa for about seven months.

Senator Sterle said Capt Salas would have left the country without facing the inquest had a journalist not reported he was in the country, and raised it directly with the New South Wales coroner.

"(Salas) admitted to encouraging crew to buying guns. He is a self-confessed gun runner," Senator Sterle said.

"We have a heck of a lot of money going into security and so it should.

"But no one has given me an answer yet that gives me any faith in our processes.

"It was the work of Owen Jacques, the reporter who did this."

Senator Sterle said there was a "breakdown" in national security if it relied on a journalist to find people with suspicious backgrounds.

Mr Williams said Border Protection was not asked to investigate Capt Salas until February 16, the day the coroner asked the department to bring him to Sydney to front the inquest.

The report of Capt Salas's return to Australia was published on February 15.

"When we received a request we responded and supported the coronial appearance of the individual concerned.
"I don't accept that there was a breakdown," Mr Williams said.

Mr Williams said there was no "flag" on Capt Salas's arrival in Australia to alert authorities despite the captain's previous admissions that he had illegally sold guns on board his former vessel.

Department of Border Protection intelligence branch assistant secretary Adam Meyer told the hearing authorities "made an assessment that we did not need to put an alert on this individual".

The Sage Sagittarius was dubbed the Death Ship after the vessel's chief cook vanished overboard off the Queensland coast, and a chief engineer fell to his death after suffering an unexplained blow to his skull.

The coronial inquest into the deaths is due to resume later this year.



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