THE family of an Australian veterinarian who was onboard a live export vessel which capsized in a typhoon in the East China Sea last year say they are still looking for closure – with the investigation unfinished, no death certificate or compensation.
Lukas Orda was one of 43 crew members on the Gulf Livestock 1, which was carrying almost 6,000 dairy heifers from NZ to China when it disappeared in September last year. Mr Orda and 40 others onboard have never been found since the disaster – leaving behind his wife Emma and six-month-old son Theodore.
The handling of the Gulf Livestock 1 has been criticised since the boat sunk, with Japanese authorities scaling back the search after a week, while the investigation led by Panama, with help from New Zealand, has not been made public.
But the family of Lukas Orda say the way Australian authorities have handled the disaster has been unsatisfactory – with no death certificate or compensation since it happened.
His father Dr Ulrich Orda said government authorities, including the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and the Prime Minister Scott Morrison had been reluctant to push for outcomes.
“We do not have a single outcome from the investigation, we do not know what the AMSA knows and we occasionally receive emails from the ATSB,” Dr Orda said.
“You would think it would be on the Prime Minister’s desk and they would be pushing for an outcome, but it seems like they don’t want to know an outcome.”
In response, an AMSA spokesman said the organisation was still trying to seek the findings of the investigation.
“It’s understood Panamanian authorities are investigating the loss and Australia will work through the International Maritime Organisation to seek the findings and any lessons learnt are taken into account, particularly for livestock ships trading to Australia,” the spokesman said.
“The Japanese Coastguard was responsible for the search and rescue operation for the Gulf Livestock 1 Panamanian-flagged ship, which was lost on a voyage from New Zealand to China in 2020.
“Australia – and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority – provided advice on the search efforts and we had no concerns with the quality or extent of the search in challenging weather conditions.”
Workers’ compensation not paid
Lukas Orda was working as contractor to the live export company chartering the ship, which meant he oversaw his own insurance and superannuation.
Dr Orda said despite his son not having any insurance, he felt the family, particularly Emma, should still be entitled to workers’ compensation.
“I think Lukas thought nothing terrible like this would happen, and he also thought workers’ compensation would cover any accidents – which it should,” he said.
“Workers’ compensation has also been contacted by our lawyers and they have acknowledged that is the case – but that was three months ago.
“Even though the company was not responsible for sick leave, life insurance or superannuation, they are still responsible for providing a safe workplace. Lukas was obviously not safe.”
Death certificate preventing payouts
While the compensation case was ongoing, the absence of a death certificate was putting financial pressure on the Orda family. A funeral has been held for Lukas and the family is trying to move on.
Emma has moved from the Gold Coast to Townsville to be closer to Ulrich and his wife Sabine. She has returned to work as a vet nurse three-days-a-week with the Orda family helping care for Theodore who is almost two years old.
But without a death certificate Emma and Lukas are still technically married, which Dr Orda said has prevented Emma from selling the house they owned on the Gold Coast.
“The plan was to sell the house on the Gold Coast and use that money to take over a house in Townsville – which we paid to have built,” he said.
“She can’t make all the repayments, so myself and Sabine have to give her support. She can’t access Centrelink as a single mum and her wages as a vet nurse can’t cover all the repayments and feed a family.”
Dr Orda said he contacted the Queensland Coroner’s office last month to see how the death certificate was progressing.
“They told me they had not been informed anyone was missing, they knew about the case but they didn’t know it was a Queenslander missing,” he said.
While the financial side of the death certificate was substantial, Dr Orda said it was also preventing a lot of day-to-day needs.
“Emma is technically not able to put Theo in a kindergarten because you need both parents to sign. She was lucky a kindergarten understood the situation and let her be the only one to sign it,” he said.
“You can’t change insurance if it is own both names, you can’t change a car loan if it is in both names.”
A spokesman from the Coroner’s Court of Queensland confirmed the case had only recently been referred to the organisation.
“The Coroner’s Court of Queensland became aware of the missing person, Mr Lukas Orda, late last month when advised via email correspondence from Mr Orda’s parents,” the spokesman said.
“The State Coroner has directed Deputy State Coroner Jane Bentley to investigate the disappearance of Mr Orda pursuant to s12 Coroners Act, due to Mr Orda’s disappearance occurring outside Australia.
“Prior to the information being received from Mr Orda’s family, the disappearance of Mr Orda had not been reported to the CCQ. As this is now an open investigation, the CCQ is not able to make any further comment on the matter.”
Bad indictment on the industry
Mr Orda said the family had received little help from industry and the government to work through these technicalities. He said it was a bad indictment on the industry.
“The message is that if you work for the live export industry and something happens, do not expect anyone to help you,” he said.
“I don’t think it is in the best interest of the industry to have this message out.”
- Beef Central attempted to contact Australasian Global Exports managing director Sophie Wang this morning, but had not received a reply by telephone or email by the time of publication. The Australian Live Exporters Council declined to comment due to the ongoing investigation.