"Death Ship" captain docks in Queensland as inquest looms
THE GUN-running Filipino captain of a vessel that suffered two mysterious fatalities in Australian waters has returned on a new contract, aboard a hulk arriving into the Port of Gladstone this morning.
Captain Venancio Salas Jr was in charge of the Sage Sagittarius in late 2012 when its chief cook Cesar Llanto disappeared overboard.
Two weeks later, chief engineer Hector Collado would somehow suffer a blow to his skull before falling 10.5m to his death.
Captain Salas's return to Australian comes on the same day a coronial inquest into the two Sagittarius fatalities resumes in Sydney.
The inquest was launched in mid-2015 after a major investigation into the so-called "death ship" by Australian Regional Media.
The Sagittarius regularly visits the ports of Abbott Point and Gladstone as it ferries coal from Australia to Japan.
During an inquest hearing last year, Captain Salas admitted he had physically assaulted a young, gay crewman.
He also admitted in court to illegally selling firearms to crew members.
The court heard Captain Salas was soon to join a new ship called the Kypros Sea in Brazil.
That ship left Brazil in June and now travels a static route between the Queensland ports of Weipa and Gladstone.
The arrival of Kypros into Australian waters also coincides with a Senate inquiry into the risks of foreign shipping.
The inquiry was prompted by the spate of fatalities on board the Sagittarius.
The inquiry heard allegations that Customs - now the Department of Immigration and Border Protection - had Captain Salas on a watch list at the time of the two deaths.
International Transport Workers Federation coordinator Dean Summers told the inquiry:
"The captain and his cohorts were on a watch list by Australian immigration and Border Protection with a tick against their name."
The department later denied this.
The document is shown below.
A confidential Customs document dated September 5, 2012 lists Captain Salas's name in a table marked "PACE and Immigration Alerts". Three other crew members appear on the same list.
PACE stands for Passenger Analysis, Clearance and Evaluation.
The date marks five days after the cook disappeared from the Sagittarius and nine days before the engineer would suffer a fatal fall.
When shown the document, the department maintained Captain Salas was not on any watch list, saying "the document does not indicate that the person was on an alert or a watch list".
The department would not discuss the document further on the grounds it was confidential.
The inquest is scheduled to run until Friday.