POLICE are investigating the second suspicious death in a fortnight on the coal ship Sage Sagittarius.
The ship hit the headlines a week ago when the Newcastle Herald revealed a crew member had gone overboard off north Queensland, possibly after a dispute about conditions on the ship.
Now a second crew member is dead, and police have set up a crime scene at the ship where it is berthed at the Dyke wharves at Carrington.
The International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), which alerted the public to the first death, says it is extremely concerned about the deaths on the Sage Sagittarius, as well as a third fatality off Newcastle, in early July, on board another coal ship, the Blue Wave.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority confirmed no trace was ever found of the 36-year-old Ukrainian despite a two-day search by five helicopters, an aeroplane and a police vessel.
ITF Australian co-ordinator Dean Summers said that after alerting the public to the problems on board the Sage Sagittarius, his organisation was still trying to find what had happened in the first incident.
‘‘There could well be something very serious going on here, and three deaths in a matter of weeks on two regular visitors to Newcastle is a cause for concern,’’ Mr Summers said.
‘‘The crews on these ships are at the mercy of an industry that gives them less and less time on shore while they are working, and where we are effectively their only voice.’’
The Sage Sagittarius was diverted to Port Kembla after the first death, and ITF and Maritime Union of Australia representatives were already eager to talk to the ship when it arrived in Newcastle yesterday.
It was originally destined to load coal from the Kooragang Island wharves but after an emergency 000 call from the ship, tugs took it instead to the Dyke wharves at Carrington just before 8am.
A police spokesman said ambulance crews went on board at about 8.15 but were unable to revive a Filipino man aged 55.
A crime scene was set up on the ship and police had begun interviewing the crew of about 21.
Nobody could say how the man died.
Port authorities spoke yesterday of ‘‘crush injuries’’, and an ambulance spokesman said a description of the man as suffering ‘‘cardiac arrest’’ should not be taken to mean he had suffered a heart attack.
The ship’s owner, the Hachiuma Steamship Company Ltd of Kobe, said it was working closely with the authorities and would support the crewman’s family.