EXCLUSIVE: A SHIPPING firm already under investigation over how two Filipino sailors were killed aboard a bulk carrier in Australian waters faces new scrutiny following allegations the ship is a "rusting hulk" in breach of Australian safety rules.
The Sage Sagittarius coal carrier was inspected in late September at the Port of Newcastle by New South Wales Deputy Coroner Sharon Freund, ship owners and the International Transport Workers' Federation that advocates on behalf of international seafarers.
The group visited the ship which is the subject of a looming inquest by the NSW State Coroner into how the two Filipino seafarers died on the ship in late 2012.
The death of a third sailor, Japanese superintendent Kosaku Monji will also be considered in the inquest.
He was killed on the Sagittarius just weeks after it left the Port of Newcastle.
This third fatality earned the carrier its notorious title of "Death or Murder Ship" from the ITF.
The Sagittarius is one of thousands of bulk carriers that visit regional Queensland ports including those of Gladstone and Abbot Point north of Mackay.
The inquest was ordered following a six-month award-winning investigation into the ship by APN.
ITF Australia coordinator Dean Summers said he did not believe the life rafts he saw during the September inspection were capable of saving lives.
"If your ship is sinking, you would find some solace in the fact that emergency life rafts are going to open," he said.
"Under the circumstances I saw, they would not have opened."
He said the group also saw emergency stop switches in need of repair.
These activate when someone is at risk of injury or death from machinery.
"They were rusted and frozen and completely inoperable," Mr Summers said.
Lawyers for Japanese ship managers Hachiuma Steamship would not discuss the allegations.
Speaking from Tokyo by email, Hachiuma's Naoya Miyasaka said any claims relating to safety would be "taken very seriously".
"All such matters are dealt with through the many inspections carried out on-board the vessel during the year by ourselves, but more importantly, by a number of external and competent authorities," he said.
He said the safety of Hachiuma's crew and ships was its "primary concern".
More than 1600 pages of investigative notes from the Australian Federal Police, NSW Police, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and international authorities will be examined by the Deputy Coroner before the inquest begins in May next year.
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
AUGUST 30, 2012 (Day of first death)
● Filipino chief cook Cesar Llanto, 42, vanished overboard 800km north-west of Cairns.
● Crew members claim he was reporting abuse suffered by a fellow seafarer. Investigators found no way he could fall overboard. Ship diverted to Port Kembla for investigation.
SEPTEMBER 14, 2012 (15 days after first death)
● Filipino chief engineer Hector Collado, 57, falls more than 10m to his death while the ship was docked at the Port of Newcastle.
OCTOBER 6, 2012 (37 days after first death)
● Monji, 37, crushed to death by conveyor belt machinery in Japan
SEPTEMBER 19, 2013 (One year, 20 days after first death)
● Panama publishes confidential report into three deaths.
JUNE 16, 2014 (One year, 9 months, 17 days after first death)
● New South Wales Coroner to consider an inquest into Mr Llanto and Mr Collado's deaths in Australian waters.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.