Animal Cruelty Charges Dropped
The animal cruelty charges that were brought against livestock export company Emanuel Exports have been dropped by prosecutors in Perth, Australia.
Around 2,400 sheep died on the Awassi Express (subsequently renamed the Anna Marra) on a voyage from Fremantle to the Middle East in August 2017.
The situation was brought to public attention when Animals Australia obtained whistleblower footage which was broadcast on a 60 Minutes program in April 2018. Footage from five separate voyages showed sheep suffering heat stress, some bogged in feces. Some sick and injured animals were left to die slowly as were some new-born lambs.
After the footage was aired, Emanuel Exports’ Director Nicholas Daws apologized to farmers and the broader community for what he said were absolutely unacceptable outcomes. Animal cruelty charges were subsequently laid.
Just before the trial was scheduled to commence this month, the prosecution claimed that it was no longer in the public interest to proceed. The Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development issued a statement saying the decision to drop the charges was based on the complexity of the case, the cost of a trial, the administrative sanction already incurred by the company, changes made to the company’s operations and the moratorium that is now in force on live exports during the northern hemisphere summer.
Emanuel Exports had its license to export revoked by the Department of Agriculture, but it was subsequently restored in 2021.
“The defendant was granted regulatory approval to reopen trade with Saudi Arabia on 27 September,” says Alliance for Animals Policy Director Dr Jed Goodfellow. “Whether this factored into the consideration of the ‘public interest’ the Minister refers to, we don’t know. We will be seeking a full statement of reasons for the decision.”
To inexplicably drop the charges at the eleventh hour on the basis of the public interest and the interests of taxpayers raises more questions than it answers, he says. “Is the government saying it is too expensive to uphold the law when it comes to animal cruelty?” The Alliance is calling for the matter to be referred to the WA Crime and Corruption Commission for immediate inquiry.
“Australians were shocked to their core by the horrific scenes of sheep gasping for air while being trampled and dying in beds of their own feces while sailing into the stifling heat of the Middle East. The fact that the exporter responsible for such profound suffering will not be held accountable is an affront to justice,” says Goodfellow.
The RSPCA has also responded to the dropping of the charges, saying: “The fact that 2,400 sheep can die in such horrific circumstances and there’s not a system in place that can hold anyone accountable shows that live export is a broken industry.”
The RSPCA says it will continue to support in the strongest possible terms a phase out of live sheep export as soon as practicable. This has been promised by the current federal government if it is re-elected for a second term.
“As we keenly wait to #LegislateTheDate and finalize the phase-out of live sheep export, today’s outcome will be a timely reminder that the Awassi Express was just one incident in a long timeline of tragedy that brought us to this point, and that for the many caring Australians who support this policy, the end of live sheep export cannot come soon enough,” said the RSPCA in a statement.
A multi-million dollar, publicly funded trial to install air-conditioning units on live export vessels in 2019 failed to be effective in reducing heat and humidity. Australia subsequently prohibited live sheep exports to the Middle East from June 1 to September 14 (southern hemisphere winter and northern hemisphere summer time).
Despite the moratorium, exported sheep continue to face extreme conditions traversing the equatorial, Red Sea and Persian Gulf regions with over 70% of voyages since 2018 reporting heat stress.