Concern Raised that Australian Sheep Will be Re-Exported
The Australian government refused a request by an Israeli livestock exporter to send a ship carrying around 14,000 sheep and hundreds of cattle on a month-long voyage around Africa to Israel earlier this week, but it left the way open for other options.
The Bahijah sailed from Australia for Israel on January 5 but was recalled over a week into the voyage after diverting towards South Africa, unwilling to sail through the Red Sea.
The ship has been docked in Fremantle port, Western Australia, awaiting an Australian government decision on its plan to sail the alternative, longer route to the Middle East. Several hundred cattle have been unloaded, with a small number of fatalities subsequently reported.
On February 6, the Department of Agriculture stated that it was unable to be satisfied that its export and import requirements could be met or that the arrangements for the transport of the livestock to their final destination were appropriate to ensure their health and welfare.
However, it also stated: “A range of options remain available to the exporter, and the department stands ready to assess any future application submitted by the exporter.”
Unconfirmed, local reports indicate that the exporting company, Bassem Dabbah, plans to prepare the sheep and some of the cattle for re-export to Israel after resting on shore for at least 5-10 days.
“Every peer-reviewed article on live animal transport demonstrates the cumulative stresses, adverse animal welfare outcomes and increased disease risk with long journeys,” said professional veterinary organization Vets Against Live Export (VALE) in a blog. “Five days break would be outright animal cruelty. 10 days break not much better. If this industry wants public respect and social licence then they need to stop demonstrating their ignorance of, or indifference to, animal welfare.”
The RSPCA said: “The only right decision now is to have these animals humanely processed in Australia. We would be extremely alarmed if there was any proposal to re-export them at a future time. They’ve suffered enough.”
The organisation has urged Bassem Dabbah to avoid further unnecessary delay and safely offload the animals as soon as possible. “We need to remember that these animals are not yet safe from danger; they are stressed, fatigued and continue to be at risk of illness, disease and death. As a result of the delays so far, further fatalities are almost inevitable.
“We expect that any handling will be done in a low stress manner and with the welfare of the animals as a priority. Once again, this situation highlights that it is impossible to regulate this inherently risky industry. Live animal export cannot be fixed, and it can never be effectively regulated.”
The Australian Livestock Exporters' Council (ALEC) said in a statement: “ALEC has not pursued a particular outcome during this process, and our task is now to work as an industry to work through next steps with animal welfare being our highest priority, noting that the animals continue to be in good condition.
“This issue, which involved exceptional circumstances, demonstrates that we have the necessary processes in place to deal with scenarios like this.
“Further to our statement of 1 February, we continue to be genuinely disappointed that activist groups, in particular the RSPCA, and some politicians spread misinformation and untruths about conditions onboard the vessel. In many instances, it was deliberately misleading, and we would expect much better from groups such as the RSPCA and our elected parliamentarians.
“Further, we condemn the politicisation of this issue, given that this vessel was unable to exercise freedom of navigation as a result of terrorism from Houthi Rebel forces. Freedom of navigation is a right that the Australian Government supports and one which should extend to all ships carrying Australian exports.
“Given the extraordinary circumstances of this situation, any moves to use this issue to attempt to further the Government’s proposed ban on live sheep exports would be cheap, callous, and cynical. Particularly given the acute focus on food security by our trading partners currently given ongoing conflict in the Middle East region.”