An ongoing inquest into the death of the chief engineer of the Japanese bulk coal carrier Sage Sagittarius in 2012 has heard that forensic evidence could fit either an assault or accident.
Hector Collado’s body was found on the floor of the engine room on 14 September 2012 as the Panamanian-flagged ship was about to enter Newcastle harbour.
Police had boarded the NYK vessel just days earlier at Port Kembla, where it had been diverted following the disappearance on 30 August of chief cook Cesar Llanto in the Coral Sea while the ship was en route to Newcastle.
An autopsy found that Collado had been struck on the head but had died from falling down an engineering shaft. A trail of blood led from the storeroom along the corridor to the rails.
Newcastle forensic pathologist Dr Brian Beer told the inquest earlier this year that the death appeared suspicious as no items at the scene could have caused the injury.
Yet blood-pattern analyst Detective Sergeant Shawn Harkins, while acknowledging a crime could not be ruled out, has now told the inquest that drip trails and bloodstains do not indicate Collado was thrown over the rails.
He also told the court on Thursday (17 September) that, as the drops of blood were undisturbed, it was unlikely others were involved in Collado’s death.
“Certainly if Mr Collado was injured and there was another party present, I would expect there to be some disturbance of the bloodstain patterns,” he said. “They would be more erratic. But that can’t be ruled out.”
Witnesses at the inquest have testified to gun running, threats, and intimidation on board the vessel.
One month after Collado’s death, on 6 October 2012, a company safety superintendent investigating the vessel was found crushed to death by the ship’s unloading rollers while it was docked in Japan.
Panamanian and Japanese inquiries into the deaths determined they were accidental.
The Coroner’s inquest has adjourned until 15-19 February 2016.