Inquest hears of gun running and foul play aboard “murder ship”

Foul play has been suspected as the cause of deaths aboard the notorious ‘murder ship’, MV Sage Sagittarius.

Newcastle Herald reported that the bulk handling coal ship and its crew have been the subject of a new inquest into two deaths that occurred on board in Australian waters, an inquiry which on the first day has heard evidence of gun-running and homophobic bullying.

Three suspicious deaths have occurred on the ship since August 30 2012, when chief cook Cesar Llanto vanished overboard about 800km north of Cairns.

Fifteen days later chief engineer Hector Collado, a maritime worker of 30 years experience, fell 11 metres to his death while the ship docked at Newcastle.

Another 22 days later a Japanese supervisor named Monji died after he was pulled into conveyor machinery on the ship while in Japanese waters, however this death will not be a primary focus of the inquest.

The court heard that the captain of the ship, Venancio Salas Jr. was accused of selling firearms to the crew, according to Australian Federal Police.

An anonymous source from the ship’s crew said the captain “openly berated” crew members who declined the offer to purchase weapons, and other crew members had bought the guns to stay in the captain’s “good books”.

The widow of Cesar Llanto gave an emotional account of her husband, breaking down as she described his dedication to family, and her belief that he would not have taken his own life.

"He told me that once he returned from that trip we would buy a second-hand car," she said.

"The rest (of his earnings) would be used for the future of our children.

"He loved us very much. He was looking towards his return."

The court heard from forensic pathologist Dr Brian Beer that Hector Collado was found with a 2cm cut in his head, which did not appear to have been caused by an accident.

It was stated that the cut had occurred before Collado fell 11 metres down stairs while the ship arrived at the Port of Newcastle.

Video evidence was also supplied of the bullying of a gay kitchen hand, in which the captain participated.

The ship’s captain, as well as an executive representative of ship owner Hachiuma Steamship will be called to give evidence today.

The inquest is overseen by NSW deputy coroner Sharon Freund.

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