The Australian Coroner who has spent two years investigating how two men died on the bulk carrier Sage Sagittarius, dubbed the Death Ship, will take more time before handing down her findings.
The Sydney inquest is examining the disappearance of chief cook Cesar Llanto and the death of chief engineer Hector Collado. Llanto, 42, disappeared overboard off Cairns on August 30, 2012. Collado, 55, died a fortnight later after falling 12 storeys down an engineering shaft when the ship was moored at the Port of Newcastle.
Superintendent Kosaku Monji, whose death is not being investigated, was subsequently sent to the ship to calm the crew. Monji began an audit of the deaths on behalf of Hachiuma Steamship Company, but it was cut short when his body was found mangled in a conveyor belt on October 6 when the ship was in Japan – and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the Australian inquest.
The three men died or disappeared within a 37-day period.
During the inquest, naval electronics expert Mark Sanders testified that he believed audio recordings from the days Collado and Llanto died had been deliberately deleted. The Australian authorities had requested 10 audio files to be downloaded for evidence but had only been given nine, and the date stamps appeared to have been tampered with.
The inquest also heard that the shipping company’s executive director Shigeto Yoshimura said, via video link from Japan, that he didn’t think there is “any sort of relationship amongst these three deaths.”
The Japanese Coast Guard and the Japanese Transport Safety Board investigating Monji’s death were not told of the deaths of the other two men.
Yoshimura conceded that he did not report the other deaths “probably because I did not want to delay the operation of the ship.”
The inquest heard that the master of the vessel Captain Venancio Salas Jr regularly bullied galley worker Jessie Martinez. On one occasion, he allegedly punched him so hard he struggled for breath for days afterwards.
The captain also admitted to selling guns to crew members and taking a commission. Most of the crew members on board were armed. When pressed, Salas admitted to collecting the gun brochures and permits from the crew before the Sage Sagittarius docked in Newcastle to prevent the Australian Federal Police from finding them.
The inquest heard that Llanto may have been involved in a plan to report Salas to the International Transport Workers’ Federation on arrival in Australia. Salas denied he was angry with Llanto and denied he had anything to do with his disappearance, but said he believed the man may have been murdered.
One of the crew members has spoken out saying he feared for his life after Llanto’s disappearance. The man, who cannot be named, told the inquest he believed Llanto’s death was neither an accident nor a suicide.
The crew member spoke of an argument between Salas and Llanto a week prior to the cook’s disappearance. The argument was over the captain’s order to give the crew less food, a practice he believed enabled the captain to personally take the money saved.
Australian Customs and Border Protection officials raided the Sage Sagittarius 13 times in the three years before the deaths occurred.