Captain's death linked to piracy: Inquest verdict rejects claims by Indonesian authorities that crew mutinied

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The Independent Online
CLAIMS by the Indonesian authorities that the British captain of a merchant ship was murdered by his mutinous crew rather than by pirates were rejected by a coroner yesterday.

After the inquest into the death of Captain John Bashforth, who was shot dead on the Baltimar Zephyr last December, the Indonesian government was accused of a cover-up.

Clive Rushton, the coroner, recorded a verdict at the inquest in Buxton that Capt Bashforth, 45, of Hathersage, Derbyshire, had been unlawfully killed.

He examined conflicting reports from the ship's owners and the Indonesians and concluded there was no evidence of a mutiny on the vessel.

Bob Bashforth, the murdered man's brother, said afterwards: 'It is absolute rubbish what the Indonesians have been claiming . . . the British government should put pressure on them to find out what really happened.'

Martin Garside, spokesman for Numast, the British ships' officers union, said: 'The Indonesians are embarrassed that such lawlessness takes place in their waters. It is possible that there is complicity in piracy . . . within their authorities.'

Capt Bashforth was killed on 11 December in the Malacca Strait, a notorious area for piracy between Indonesia and Malaysia. The Baltimar Zephyr is registered in the Bahamas and owned by a Danish company.

Teodolfo Pereja, the Filipino first mate, was also murdered on board the 3,200-ton freighter, which was en route from Fremantle, Australia, to Singapore.

A crewman said that he and Mr Pereja were threatened by a man armed with a rifle and a pistol. The pirates shot up the radar before taking Mr Pereja below, where was shot dead in the captain's cabin. It is believed that Capt Bashforth tried to barricade himself in a lavatory before suffering the same fate.

From the start, the Indonesian authorities were sceptical about the piracy report. They detained the ship for a week, interrogated the nine crew members without lawyers or interpreters and made statements to the press suggesting a mutiny.

Mr Rushton was sent evidence by the Indonesians which showed that Capt Bashforth died from gunshot wounds to the right chest and right thigh. They alleged that the ship was too far offshore for pirates to have got to her and that the weather was too rough.

By contrast a report from the owners had no doubts that pirates were to blame. The crewmen who were threatened gave a description of the armed man.

Mr Rushton said: 'The Indonesians do not appear to have considered the possibility of a pirate mother ship which could have launched smaller vessels.'

(Photograph omitted)