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Murder Ship exploiting loopholes to frustrate investigation

THE Japanese owners of the Sage Sagittarius - dubbed the "murder ship" - are exploiting a legal loophole to cut operating costs and avoid its national laws.

This "flags of convenience" system is now being blamed for complicating an Australian investigation into two deaths at sea which has blown out to almost 18 months.

Two Filipino ship workers were killed in Australian waters within weeks of one another while on the Sagittarius between late-August and early-September in 2012.

A Japanese safety superintendent was killed weeks later after falling into the ship's conveyor as the Sagittarius docked in Japan.

The Sagittarius is registered in the Central American nation of Panama. By having a flag nation of Panama, ship owners may escape regulations enforced by more developed countries.

Ships like the Sagittarius constantly visit ports near Mackay, Gladstone and Bundaberg in Queensland and Newcastle in New South Wales.

Under international law, the flag nation must investigate incidents involving its flagged ships.

It took until January 5 - three months after the third death aboard the ship - before a single Panamanian investigator inspected the Sagittarius.

By then, the man captaining the ship while two men were killed in Australia waters was long gone. He quit his post immediately after the second incident, while the Sagittarius was docked in Newcastle.

Up to 70% of cargo ships fly a flag of convenience, despite condemnation from the International Transport Workers Federation.

ITF Australia coordinator Dean Summers said the flags of convenience system was "absolutely" delaying Australian investigations.

"It provides for corruption, it is a complete de-regulation of the ship and everything to do with it," Mr Summers said.

"An incident on an Australian-flagged ship would be investigated by the Australian Marine Safety Authority and Australian Transport Safety Bureau using highly-trained seafarers who respond immediately."

Both the Australian Federal Police and New South Wales police have now given a brief of evidence to the NSW Coroner.

Naoya Miyasaka, a spokesman for Sage Sagittarius owners Hachiuma Steamship, denied the company used Panama to avoid regulations.

"The flag of registry has nothing to do with the high standards that are required of us and achieved on all our vessels," he said.

An AFP spokeswoman said it was a complex case involving state, national and international jurisdictions. The AFP would not comment on its work with its counterparts in Panama.

Comment has been sought from Panama's embassy in Singapore.

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