The muddy waters surrounding the 'murder ship'.

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IN THE the next week alone, 226 bulk carriers will visit the Central Queensland ports between Bundaberg and Abbot Point north of Mackay, including terminals at Gladstone, Port Alma and Hay Point.

As of last week the Sage Sagittarius was one of the many heading north, 80km off Queensland's Sunshine Coast.

Coastal Australians traditionally count bulk carriers that dot the horizon.


Each of the 22 or so mostly Filipino seafarers on these ships work inside a complicated machine beyond the carriers they crew.

The Philippine Government takes little interest in its booming seaborne population - up to 280,000 worldwide - as international waters remain one of the few lawless places on earth.

The Japanese-owned Sagittarius is registered in Panama, meaning under international law, Panama must investigate any incidents on board.

As a "flag of convenience state", Panama is a haven for shipping giants that entices with a quiet promise of lax scrutiny.

It took more than four months after the first death for Panama to start investigating.

Even then, Sagittarius owners NYK Line and managers Hachiuma Steamship blocked access to possible witnesses who it claimed were "already on vacation".

THE VANISHING COOK: How did this seaman 'fall' overboard?

Chief cook Cesar Llanto, 42, disappeared overboard on August 30, 2012 as the Sagittarius rumbled beneath overcast skies 800km north-west of Cairns.

The Panama Maritime Authority dismissed notions of suicide or an accidental fall as the Filipino chief cook was supporting a family with decades of experience.

It offered no explanation for how or why he vanished.

A crewman at the time told authorities the chief cook planned to confront the ship's captain that morning, accusing his superior of physically abusing a lower-ranked crewman.

The story from management and Panama is that the captain and chief officer noticed the cook was gone when their breakfast didn't arrive at 8.30am.

A two-day search led by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and involving nine other bulk carriers was fruitless.

Cleared to restart its journey south, the company dispatched two security guards by helicopter to "soothe the crew".

Philippine Consul-General in Australia Alan Grummit knew nothing of the cook's death until contacted by APN earlier this year.

Australian Federal Police ordered the ship to Port Kembla where authorities interviewed the crew.

On September 9, it left Kembla bound for Newcastle.

THE FALLEN ENGINEER: A freak accident?

On September 14 as the ship entered the Port of Newcastle, chief engineer Hector Collado, 55, fell 10.4m in the engine room to his death having spent 30 years in the industry.

He died just four hours before he was to fly home to the Philippines.

The engineer was neither tired, nor affected by drugs or alcohol.

The Panama report found, "He can't be [sic] fall easily off the railing as he is much [sic] familiar to the engine room since he was working (for) the vessel MV Sage Sagittarius for the three contracts".

In seafarer terms, a contract is a nine-month stint.

The Panama report suggested a heart attack could have been the cause of death.

But with the engineer dead in an Australian port, AMSA was able to board and examine the scene in a way it couldn't with the cook.

Its findings did not explain why the engineer fell but stated he died from head injuries not a heart attack. New South Wales Police began investigating.

CRUSHED IN JAPAN: Death of a safety expert

The entire crew including the captain was sent home after the two deaths.

It would be a fresh start as the ship left Newcastle on September 19.

Japanese safety superintendent Kosaku Monji, 37, joined the ship to protect the crew but within weeks he too would be killed.

Between 3am and 4am on October 6 - the third day in a southern Japanese port - Mr Monji was crushed to death by conveyor belt machinery, seemingly as he attempted to oil faulty parts.

A "leg protruding" from the machinery was found shortly before 7.30am.A report by the Japanese Transport Safety Board found he had broken the rules by oiling a faulty part instead of replacing it, which led to him being pulled between the mechanisms.

In its lightweight six-page report, it took only a cursory look at his death.

It suggested the new crew were too inexperienced to help with repairs but it did not consider the causes of the problem.

THE VIEW FROM ABOVE: How the company responded

JAPANESE owners of the Sage Sagittarius say there is no reason to be suspicious about the three deaths aboard the ship in late 2012 despite conceding it still has "no idea how they occurred".

Speaking on behalf of owners NYK Line and managers Hachiuma Steamship, Naoya Miyasaka said the company cooperated with all investigations, whether in Australia, Japan or Panama.

It also conducted its own internal examination, but he said the findings would not be made public.

Mr Miyasaka did not answer questions on why a Panama investigator was not given access to interview its former crew.

He said despite its full cooperation with all investigations, "we have no idea as to how they occurred as there were no eye witness accounts of either event."

Topics:  bundaberg editors picks japan newcastle sage sagittarius

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