Coroner says two ship deaths were probably foul play

The deaths in quick succession in 2012 of a Filipino chef and an engineer on board bulk carrier “Sage Sagittarius” (IMO 9233545) were likely foul play, a New South Wales coroner has found. Deputy state coroner Sharon Freund said the evidence strongly suggested that the ship’s captain, Venancio Salas Jr, either caused or authorized the disappearance of the chef. Salas had cooperated with the inquest, giving evidence on three separate occasions.

A fortnight after chef Cesar Llanto’s disappearance, engineer Hector Collado was found dead on board while the vessel was in Newcastle harbour. The crew were on the whole reluctant to provide information to the Australian authorities.

The inquest heard the that ship’s captain was selling guns to the crew, and that the culture on board consisted of bullying, harassment, silencing and “blacklisting”.

Audio recordings from the ship’s voyage data recorder (VDR) system were deleted on the day of Llanto’s disappearance. “This fact, in combination with other evidence, suggests strongly to me that Captain Salas caused or authorized the disappearance of Mr Llanto, or that he had knowledge about the circumstances of his disappearance beyond that to which he acknowledged at the inquest,” the coroner wrote.

Collado was a potential witness to the circumstances behind the death of Llanto, the inquest heard, and Salas had expressed a particular interest in speaking with him about changing his statement, the coroner said. He had expressed fears for his safety. Freund found the two deaths were likely linked.

Freund concluded that Chef Llanto had died either after being thrown overboard, or killed on the ship before his body was disposed of. Freund said Collado was struck over the head by a weapon and was then either thrown or fell over the handrail outside the ship’s storeroom on the second deck.

A third man, Kosaku Monji, was crushed to death in a conveyer belt in October 2012 while the ship was docked at the Japanese port of Kudamatsu, but this event was outside the jurisdiction of the Australian court. Mr Monji had come aboard the ship on September 3rd to investigate Mr Llanto’s disappearance and to ensure the safety of the crew.

2001-built, 73,427 gt Sage Sagittarius is owned by Hesperus Maritime of Kobe, Japan and managed by Haciuma Steamship Co, also of Japan, although Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha Line (NYK) has been reported as the effective owner and operator . It is entered with Japan Shipowners’ P&I Club.