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‘Death ship’ captain in the dock

The Sydney inquest into the mysterious three deaths onboard the Japanese controlled Sage Sagittarius in 2012 saw the prime suspect in the dock today.

Venancio Salas was the master of the bulker, dubbed the ‘death ship’ in Australian media, when the deaths occurred in quick succession over six weeks in the middle of 2012. As already has been established, Salas was not afraid to bully other seafarers, drink large amounts of alcohol onboard and even smuggle guns. His poor relationship with the chief cook and chief engineer – both of whom died in mysterious circumstances – has also been highlighted in the inquest, which started last year and has resumed this week.

Salas, back in Australia for the first time since the incident, onboard a different ship this time, gave evidence today. He initially tried to deny that he was on the ship’s bridge at any time between 8am and 9am on August 30, 2012, the last place the chief cook was seen before dying by falling overboard. Salas, under extensive questioning from the prosecution, then recanted and said he had been on the bridge. Other crewmembers have reported a fierce argument between the cook and the master just before the former died.

Salas also said it was “probable” part of an audio recording on his ship’s voyage data recorder (VDR) was deleted the day the cook died.

Australian police officers, meanwhile, told the coroners’ court of the difficulties in getting on the record interviews from other crewmembers who were on the ship at the time, with many fearing speaking out could endanger their career prospects and the wife of another crewmen even saying police she feared for her husband’s life if he gave evidence.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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