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Stranded live exports ship with 16,500 sheep, cattle aboard to be unloaded

A loaded livestock carrier has returned to Australian waters after abandoning a Middle East voyage.

A loaded livestock carrier has returned to Australian waters after abandoning a Middle East voyage. Photo: AAP

Some of the sheep and cattle stranded in heatwave conditions aboard a ship off Western Australia after almost a month at sea will be offloaded, with others set to be re-exported.

About 16,500 animals are packed into the MV Bahijah, which was ordered by the federal government to abandon its voyage to the Middle East due to Houthis’ rebel attacks in the Red Sea.

It has since returned to Australian waters, with authorities scrambling to formulate a plan to quarantine the livestock.

Premier Roger Cook said the carrier could dock on Thursday after the export company managing the animals rejected the offer of a berth on Tuesday.

“They decided to delay docking – could be for a range of logistical reasons – so those animals, hopefully, will be disembarked tomorrow,” he told reporters.

“The other information I have is that they’ve done significant efforts in making sure they clean the stalls and provide new bedding and water and food for those animals.”

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said the exporter had applied to unload some animals before re-exporting those remaining aboard the vessel.

“The department is assessing this application as a priority, including working closely with our trading partners to ensure any decision to re-export the animals would be supported by the intended market,” a spokesman said.

The department said the exporter’s veterinarian on the ship was monitoring the livestock and liaising with the department.

“All reports to date indicate there are no signs of any significant health or welfare concerns with the livestock on board,” the spokesman said.

The department is also considering whether to have an independent vet assess the livestock.

“These are complex decisions that must balance Australian biosecurity, export legislation, animal welfare considerations and the requirements of our international trading partners,” the spokesman said.

The MV Bahijah loaded cattle and sheep in Fremantle and departed for the Middle East on January 5 and was ordered to return to Australia on January 20.

WA opposition spokesman for agriculture Colin de Grussa said the federal government had known for more than 10 days that the ship was returning to Australia and failed to come up with a plan for the animals.

He also raised questions about where the animals to be offloaded would go, saying it could become a “logistical bottleneck” because the holding yards were full, farms were running low on feed, and processing facilities were running at capacity.

“We haven’t heard anything from the government and instead we’re hearing from the industry … and it was the government that made the vessel turnaround in the first place,” he said.

Federal member for Fremantle Josh Wilson said there were serious animal welfare concerns about the exporter’s plan to resume its journey with some of the animals.

“That would perhaps be another 30 to 33 days at sea, instead of a 15-day voyage,” he told 6PR Perth.

“You’ve got sheep on a stinking hot ship for 60 days – it’s pretty hard to think that that accords with the animal welfare standards that Australians expect to be applied.”

The Australian Alliance for Animals raised concerns about the exporter’s application for a new voyage, saying it would be the “height of recklessness” to subject the animals to more days at sea.

It’s expected to take about 33 days and circumnavigate the African continent to access Jordan via the Suez Canal in a bid to avoid the Middle East conflict zone.

“These animals have already endured 27 days at sea – that’s almost a month of standing and lying in their own faeces, weathering heat and humidity in tight quarters,” policy director Jed Goodfellow said.

The group said the agriculture department had made an error in approving the initial application to export the animals given the situation in the Middle East.

-AAP

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