The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has called for an immediate investigation into the disappearance of 45-year-old Filipino seafarer, Arnel Gillo, reported missing on March 13 on the Galloway Express.
The livestock carrier was bound for Australia and police boarded the vessel when it docked in Townsville, Queensland, on Tuesday. However, Dean Summers, ITF National Coordinator, believes the police may have encountered language and maritime cultural issues that would have been better handled by the Australian Federal Police.
“The disappearance occurred in international waters and should be investigated by the Australian Federal Police who have experience on dealing with these cases, following the high-profile case of the flag-of-convenience Sage Sagittarius in 2012 where three seafarers died and the NSW coroner found at least two were victims of foul play.
“Arnel’s wife and family contacted us on the March 16 claiming that the company had not responded to their calls, and they were obviously distraught,” said Summers. The family have asked the ITF to help, saying, “All we hope and pray is to know what happened to my brother and if he needs rescue right away.”
An ITF inspector was harassed while trying to board the ship, claims Summers. “The Queensland Police even prevented access and frustrated all attempts for us to speak to the master and crew.”
According to Summers, Gillo joined the vessel as second engineer in Jakarta on March 9. He was last seen on March 12, due to start work at 8am on March 13. However, it appears he was not reported as missing until late in the afternoon that day.
The livestock carrier, owned by Dutch company Vroon, is registered in Singapore and has been chartered by Australian based Harmony Agriculture and Food Company. The owners have called the case an “unfortunate incident” and refused to cooperate with the ITF, says Summers, who is concerned that the case will be declared a suicide without a thorough investigation.
The Sage Sagittarius was subject a two-year coronial investigation with the NSW Coroner finding last year that the ship’s chief cook and chief engineer, both Filipino, met with foul play at the hands of other unidentified persons on board the ship. The inquest heard that the chief cook may have been involved in a plan to report the bullying of crewmembers to the ITF on arrival in Australia before he was lost overboard in international waters.
The Coroner said the Sage Sagittarius inquest has “highlighted the fact there are very significant practical impediments created by a disappearance or death on board a foreign-flagged vessel.” She recommended a permanent standing group be set up with members from at least the Australian Federal Police, state police, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to investigate deaths on international vessels in or bound for Australian waters. The group has yet to be established.