The saga of the coal carrier ‘Sage Sagittarius’ got stranger last week, with an Australian investigator discovering, three weeks after the event, that another person had died on board the vessel on October 6 in suspicious circumstances while the ship was working cargo in Japan. This is the third fatality aboard the vessel in the last six weeks; the ship, operated by Nippon Yusen Kaisha, has an all Filipino crew aboard. The latest death is that of a Japanese Superintendent, who was reportedly crushed in a conveyor belt incident. His body took two hours to be extracted.
The Australian Federal Police are already investigating the death of the Chief Cook, who is said to have fallen overboard about 450 miles from Cairns in the Timor Sea in late August. Then, police were called in two weeks later at Newcastle to investigate the death of the Chief Engineer Hector Collado. Initial reports suggested that Collado had suffered cardiac arrest just before docking. However, authorities said later that he might have sustained “crush injuries”. Other reports said that the Chief Engineer had fallen down the companionway in the engine room.
Six weeks ago, the death of the cook Cesar Llanto resulted in the vessel being diverted to Port Kembla for investigations. The incident had the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) expressing concern. Dean Summers from ITF Australia said at the time that the crewmember was planning to approach the ITF to make a complaint about work conditions. “This is a very serious situation. Our counsellors are waiting to speak to the crew members. It must be a very traumatic time,” Summers said.
The Superintendent that died this month was Kosaku Monji, an employee of Hachiuma Steamship, managers for the Sage Sagittarius. Monji is reported to have boarded the vessel at Newcastle before it sailed to Japan to ‘oversee crew safety.’ Dean Summers says the latest death is highly suspicious as there was no mention of it for weeks, and it was only discovered after an Australian inspector found an entry made in the ship’s log.
"A superintendent was put on there apparently to care for the welfare and safety of the crew. This is the superintendent that met his death just recently on October 6," Summers said. "Today is October 29; if it was a workplace accident, I would have thought any capable authority would have been able to determine that's the case.
"We think there has to be a higher level coordination… we'll be asking the Government to set up a taskforce to cut across the jurisdictions of the Australian Federal Police, the NSW Police and the Japanese police to make sure there is a transparent process to investigate the death of three seafarers," he said.
Implying that the crew were being intimidated to keep quiet about the incidents, Summers added that the crew were “all too scared to talk.”