Death ship inquest to examine spate of fatalities
THREE unsolved deaths in six weeks aboard a single ship and 1001 days of investigating have brought us here.
What began with cook Cesar Llanto's disappearance from a coal-carrying ship off the Queensland coast in 2012 will today be examined by a coronial inquest.
The inquest follows an 18-month investigation by Australian Regional Media - which publishes this newspaper - into circumstances surrounding the deaths.
The Japanese-owned Sage Sagittarius, crewed entirely by Filipino nationals, has faced questions from three national governments including state and federal police in Australia.
Thousands of cargo ships like the Sagittarius visit major ports in Queensland and NSW each year, and the Sagittarius has previously visited the Queensland ports of Gladstone and Abbot Point.
FROM THE ARCHIVES:
- FEATURE: The murky waters surrounding the "Death Ship"
- Experts call for inquest into Sage Sagittarius
Mr Llanto vanished at 8am on August 30 as the coal ship headed south off the Queensland coast.
A huge air and sea search yielded no sign of the experienced seaman and he was presumed dead.
His death led to Australian Federal Police diverting the ship to Port Kembla, in New South Wales to comb over what was now considered a possible crime scene.
Two weeks later on September 14, chief engineer Hector Collado fell 11m to his death as the Sagittarius docked at the Port of Newcastle.
His death is being considered suspicious by NSW Police.
Swarms of investigators again combed the ship following this second fatality.
A third man, Japanese safety superintendent Kosaku Monji, would die as the ship arrived at the port of Kudamatsu in southern Japan on October 6; just over five weeks after Mr Llanto went missing.
Mr Monji had boarded the Sagittarius in Australia to ensure the crew's safety after Mr Llanto disappeared.
He was discovered crushed to death by conveyor belt machinery in an apparent industrial accident.
Rumour and gossip have now enveloped the deaths.
The International Transport Workers' Federation has long suspected foul play aboard the Sagittarius, dubbing it a "death ship".
As the ship is registered in Panama, that government ran an early investigation into the three deaths.
Its findings described how managers Hachiuma Steamship and NYK Line refused to discuss how the men might have died to avoid creating "rumours and gossip around the maritime world".
A spokesman for the firms told ARM an internal investigation was considering the deaths.
Federal Labor MP Graham Perrett, a former Supreme Court solicitor with maritime law experience, described the incidents as having "an odour of a cover-up" before the inquest was announced last year.
At the same time, the federal minister who revolutionised safety in the shipping industry during the Hawke era, Peter Morris, said Australia had an obligation to ensure justice was done for those who worked aboard ships that visited our ports.
The inquest will begin today and run through until Friday afternoon.
It is expected to resume later in the year.
HOW THE SAGITTARIUS SAGA HAS UNFOLDED:
Aug 30, 2012 (Day of first death)
Filipino chief cook Cesar Llanto, 42, vanishes overboard 900km north-east of Mackay.
Investigators find no evidence of suicide or that he fell overboard. The ship is diverted to Port Kembla for investigation.
Sept 1, 2012 (Two days along)
Two security guards from Brisbane are sent to the ship with safety superintendent Kosaku Monji, 37.
Sept 14, 2012 (15 days along)
Filipino chief engineer Hector Collado, 57, falls 11m to his death as the ship arrives at the Port of Newcastle.
Sept 18, 2012 (19 days along)
Oct 6, 2012 (37 days along)
Mr Monji is crushed to death by conveyor belt machinery on board in Japan
Jan 5, 2013 (128 days along)
Panama Maritime Authority begins investigation.
Sep 19, 2013 (385 days along)
Panama publishes confidential report into three deaths.
Report describes how investigators could not interview any crew aside from the captain because they were "already taking vacation".
Sep 27, 2013 (393 days along)
Japanese Transport Safety Board publishes report into Mr Monji's death.
Finds no suspicious circumstances.
Jan 10, 2014 (498 days along)
Sagittarius managers Hachiuma Steamship said it had "no idea" how the deaths occurred.
Would later say there is no evidence to suggest the deaths are suspicious.
Jun 16, 2014 (655 days along)
NSW Coroner announces inquest into the deaths in Australian waters of Mr Llanto and Mr Collado.
It will be headed by Deputy Coroner Sharon Freund.
May 28, 2015 (1001 days along)
Inquest opens for two days and is expected to resume later this year.