Senators "gobsmacked" after death ship captain came to Qld
INVESTIGATORS scrutinising the use of foreign shipping have been left "gobsmacked" by revelations the former captain of the Sage Sagittarius - which suffered two suspicious deaths in 2012 - had arrived in Queensland on a new vessel.
A coronial inquest examining the two deaths learned Captain Venancio Salas Jr was in the country after the report was published by Australian Regional Media.
Capt Salas was subpoenaed at the Port of Gladstone last week before facing the New South Wales Coroner's Court to give evidence.
There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Capt Salas in relation to his return to Australia, which requires approval from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
That knowledge of his arrival was not passed on to other relevant authorities, including the NSW Coroner.
A department spokesman said it "does not comment on individual cases".
The Sage Sagittarius, now dubbed the "death ship", had two deaths as it travelled along the East Coast to the Port of Newcastle.
A third crew member would die on board when the Sagittarius arrived in Japan after leaving Australia. This death is not considered a focus of the inquest.
Capt Salas has previously admitted in court to selling guns on board and assaulting a young, gay crew member.
Capt Salas has strenuously denied any involvement in the deaths on board his former ship.
Senate inquiry chair, Labor Senator Glenn Sterle said the fact that key authorities were not aware of Capt Salas's arrival showed there were "gaping holes" in the systems designed to protect Australia's national security.
"We've got all these agencies and we spend billions of dollars on national security," Senator Sterle said.
"We spend a lot of money advertising what a fantastic job we're doing.
"And the truth is they have no bloody idea?
The Coalition Government has so far failed to pass legislation that would further open up Australia's coastal shipping routes to foreign vessels.
The reforms would allow entirely foreign crews to move cargo between Australian ports while avoiding national laws on wage and conditions. The government believes this would improve productivity.
The Department of Border Protection has warned the secrecy inherent in foreign shipping makes them "attractive for use in illegal activity including by organised crime or terrorist groups".
The reforms would also cost an estimated 2000 Australian jobs, according to an earlier inquiry.
Newly minted Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester's office declined to answer a suite of questions about the proposed legislation until after the inquiry hands down its report.
The inquiry was due to deliver that report on Thursday, but has extended the deadline to seek more information in light of the revelations about Capt Salas's arrival.
DEATH SHIP: A saga in brief
August 30, 2012: Chief cook Cesar Llanto disappears from the Sage Sagittarius as it travels south along the Queensland coast, about 800km north-east of Mackay.
September 14, 2012: Chief engineer Hector Collado receives a blow to his skull then falls more than 10m to his death as the ship arrives at the Port of Newcastle.
October 6, 2012: Senior safety officer Kosaku Monji is crushed to death by on-board machinery as the Sagittarius is unloaded in a Japanese port.
May 28, 2015: Coronial inquest into Llanto and Collado's deaths begins in Sydney
June 18, 2015: Senate inquiry into foreign shipping begins following major investigation into Sage Sagittarius deaths by Australian Regional Media.
November 26, 2015: Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss's reforms to allow more foreign vessels into national waters defeated.
February 25, 2016: Senate inquiry into foreign shipping extends its deadline after authorities are found to be unaware that the Sagittarius's former captain had arrived in Australia