‘Death ship’ inquest finds foul play ‘unlikely’

Blood analysis conducted as part of an inquest into how two men died onboard the ‘death ship’ Sage Sagittarius has found that foul play is ‘unlikely’ but could not be ruled out.

Three seafarers – one Japanese and two Filipino nationals – died within a six-week period onboard the coal carrier in 2012. The Sagittarius (105,708 dwt, built 2000) is managed by Hachiuma Steamship, a subsidiary of Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK).

Chief cook Cesar Llanto disappeared overboard about 800km off the coast of Mackay, Australia on August 30, 2012.

Two weeks later, chief engineer Hector Collado fell 11 metres to his death as the ship arrived at the Port of Newcastle on September 14. Collado had suffered a serious blow to his skull before falling, according to forensics.

Kosaku Monji, the vessel’s Japanese safety superintendent, was crushed to death in the vessel’s conveyor belt machinery while the Sagittarius was docked in Japan on October 3, 2012. His death falls outside the scope of the inquest in Australia.

Today, New South Wales Police detective sergeant Shawn Harkins, a blood-pattern expert, told the court that blood analysis showed others were unlikely to have been involved in Collado’s death, though he could not rule it out.

The drops of blood left behind after Collado was struck on the head were undisturbed, except possibly by Mr Collado himself, said Harkins, who had not personally visited the scene.

Previously, Newcastle forensic pathologist Dr Brian Beer, who had visited the Death Ship to investigate, had told the inquest the engineer’s death was suspicious.

No items that could have caused the injury were found at the scene, Dr Beer observed, nor did any show traces of Collado’s hair.

In June, the court heard that the captain of the so-called ‘death ship’, Venancio Salas, was involved in an argument with the chief cook Cesar Llantno, seven days before he disappeared overboard.

A fellow crewmember said he had seen Salas having a “quarrel” with Llanto days before the cook went missing off the Cairns coastline.

In May, the inquest heard there was “intense personal conflict and mutual mistrust among the crew”.

Salas had been accused of physically assaulting crew and pressuring them to buy guns from his contacts, the court heard.

Investigators found the vessel’s VDR recordings had been erased on the days of the Filipino seafarers’ respective deaths.

The inquest has been adjourned until February 2016.


Holly Birkett

Holly is Splash's Online Editor and correspondent for the UK and Mediterranean. She has been a maritime journalist since 2010, and has written for and edited several trade publications. She is currently studying for membership of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers. In 2013, Holly won the Seahorse Club's Social Media Journalist of the Year award. She is currently based in London.
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