GAVIN Kelso knows fear.

Since 2010, he has seen it on the faces of countless sailors whose ships arrive in Australian ports.

Whether they have been starved, abused, their wages stolen or are simply grappling with the stress of being a world away from their families, his Hunterlink Recovery Services tries to help.


Mr Kelso was in Newcastle in the days after the Sage Sagittarius had its second death.

He was one of a team who boarded the ship to meet with terrified crew members after a second of their number had been killed.


In this Q&A, he describes what it was like to board the Death Ship

What did you understand to have happened?

There had been a severe workplace accident resulting in death.

Just as we were getting ready to go, we'd found out that another death had taken place on board the vessel.


What was the feeling on board the ship?

The ship itself was quite intimidating. There was a lot of authority on board the vessel when we got there.

We could see quite clearly that the seafarers were quite intimidated by the amount of authority that was on board the vessel.

It was Australian authorities. Understandably they had to be there. Two deaths had taken place.

In total there was nine Filipino crew and they were highly distressed. They were distressed with one of their fellow ... two of their fellow seafarers had been killed. I guess one of the things that struck us was that they were in a lot of fear.


What does that look like when you're boarding this ship and seeing this crew for the first time?

When we boarded, there were nine guys and they were virtually huddled together. Very anxious.

And ... they looked scared. They looked like they had fear in their face.


The coal ship Sage Sagittarius is guided into Newcastle Harbour by Port Authority.
The coal ship Sage Sagittarius is guided into Newcastle Harbour by Port Authority. Troy Snook


When did you realise these deaths were suspicious?

Straight away.

We asked how the seafarers died ... some of the guys, they'd all look at each other quite suspiciously or fearfully.

They didn't want to answer the question. And never did answer the question.


Were they scared because there had been two deaths, or scared of someone on board?


I certainly had the impression, and it wasn't an impression, one seafarer told me in particular that he didn't want to be killed on board the ship. He wanted to go home to his family.

There was a number of seafarers who were actually clutching religious-type artefacts.

We asked them if they were fearful of anyone on board the ship and they said they were.

They didn't want to speak about it.


What did you think when you heard a third person had died on the ship

It was unbelievable.

I was just ... the whole thing about the Sage Sagittarius was just, it was quite surreal and it was quite disturbing.

Yeah, very disturbing.


When you think back, you're talking about boarding this ship mid-september 2012. How clearly do you remember those days, or that day

Oh, very clearly. Very clearly.

It was a one-of-a-kind experience and like I said, I've seen a lot of distressed seafarers before but this particular day just, it stood out.


Have you heard of any incidents with a spate of deaths in such a short period of time in shipping more generally before or since?

No. Not with three deaths on board a ship like that.

Definitely poor working conditions and the psychological stress, I mean, that's unfortunately a weekly occurrence.

That's happening right now to international seafarers every day of the year.

They've got to put up with traumatic events.

However, three deaths that close to each other on board one ship. That was quite a unique tragedy.


Students immerse in culture at Yallarm camp

Premium Content Students immerse in culture at Yallarm camp

Students got to build a raft on the Boyne River, participate in activities on...

GPC grows empire with new Bundaberg marine base

Premium Content GPC grows empire with new Bundaberg marine base

The new marine base is expected to provide a number of services including...