Sage Sagittarius was known as the
Sage Sagittarius was known as the "Death Ship". Troy Snook

'Fed on rations': Inquiry told of disgrace on the high seas

THE Queensland Government has been urged to take action to prevent more deaths at sea and the exploitation of foreign crews on ships travelling along the state's coast.

The first of three public hearings for the inquiry into the Sustainable Queensland Interstate Shipping Industry uncovered stories of crewmen dying at sea, being underfed and working up to 18 hours a day.

"Shame" was called from the crowd at Oaks Grand Gladstone numerous times as International Transport Federation inspector for Gladstone Sarah McGuire described what she had seen on foreign vessels in Central Queensland.

Evidence uncovered in Gladstone yesterday will form part of a government report to identify issues and possible solutions for the shipping industry.

Large ships make more than 11,000 voyages a year, carrying 23 million tonnes of cargo between Queensland ports, yet the majority of these voyages take place on international flag of convenience ships.

Ms McGuire said while inspecting FOC ships she had seen workers being underpaid, underfed and given "yellow water" to drink, and captains hiding to avoid discussing employment conditions.

As an example, she said the Sea Summit, a Korean vessel she inspected at Hay Point, had a Cambodian crew who worked 14 to 16 hours a day in a closed hatch for two weeks.

"Where this gets worse is these seafarers were fed on rations, depending on how the captain thought they performed for the day," she said.

Gladstone Region Mayor Matt Burnett told the committee the welfare of some seafarers was "absolutely disgraceful".

Cr Burnett said that in September 2017 the crew on board the Five Stars Fujian called the Mission to Seafarers to ask for fishing rods and hooks to be dropped to the vessel while it was docked in Gladstone, because they had no food.

"That's not acceptable in my community, my community goes all the way out to Heron Island and I don't want that happening again," he said.

The Five Stars Fujian was banned from Australia for one year by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority after its crew was underpaid in excess of $21,000.

Cr Burnett also spoke of the Sage Sagittarius, where two crew members died in a short period of time in 2012.

A coronial inquest held in 2017 found the first sailor died as a result of "foul play" and evidence "strongly suggested" former "Death Ship" captain Venancio Salas Jr either "caused or authorised" the deaths or knew what happened.

Cr Burnett said even as a 17-year-old he was aware foreign shipping crews were arriving in Gladstone underfed and underpaid.

"I was a 17-year-old looking at these blokes thinking 'you poor buggers'.''