LEGAL action by Israeli animal protection groups to prevent the MV Bahijah standing off Fremantle from unloading its sheep and cattle in Israel could further delay approval for its departure from Australia.
About 14,000 sheep and now just over 1000 cattle have been on the vessel for a month since it departed from Australia on 5 January and then was recalled on 20 January due to tensions in the Red Sea.
Australian animal welfare groups, including the RSPCA, have called for the shipment to be halted and the animals to be offloaded; however, all veterinary reports indicate the sheep and cattle are in good health with no apparent welfare issues.
The vessel’s recent re-provisioning and discharging of some cattle are consistent with the exporter Bassem Dabbah’s preference to re-export the livestock; however, DAFF has maintained it is still considering the exporter’s application to deliver the shipment to Israel.
Israeli animal rights groups Let the Animals Live and Animals Now have filed legal proceedings in the Central Region District Court against the Veterinary Services in the Ministry of Agriculture in Israel.
The petition is seeking an injunction in relation to an import permit for the animals on board the MV Bahijah, that would prevent the sheep and cattle being imported into Israel.
Let Animals Live legal advocate Erez Wohl said the animals on the MV Bahijah have suffered enough because of poor decisions made.
“To subject these animals to the further stress of weeks at sea en route to Israel would equate to sanctioned cruelty.
“There is overwhelming scientific evidence that animals on this vessel will be impacted by the cumulative stress, making them more susceptible to sickness and disease,” he said.
“We have taken this unprecedented legal action as it is a moral imperative that this import permit not be granted to prevent Israel being a party to grievous animal cruelty.”
Sheep Central sought the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry’s reaction to the Israeli legal action, but WAFarmers Livestock Council president Geoff Pearson said the move had definitely gained the attention of DAFF.
“If it is successful then it doesn’t allow the livestock to disembark in Israel.
“The department would have to confident that that’s not going to happen before they re-issue an export permit or let the ship leave Australia; if it can’t discharge well it can’t go,” he said.
“I don’t know how an activist can overrule a government?”
Mr Pearson believed the sheep and cattle on the vessel are being inspected by a third party veterinarian.
“The ship is provisioned and set to sail – the consignment is prepared to go if the department is confident enough to sign off on it without any complications.”
Mr Pearson said last Friday four of 750 cattle taken off the MV Bahijah died as a result of transport complications en route to quarantine.
No plans for legal action – RSPCA
RSPCA Australia chief scientist Dr Suzanne Fowler, said the organisation is aware of reports of action being taken by animal protection groups in Israel to prevent the importation of the animals on the stricken MV Bahijah.
“Once again, this shows the damage cause to Australia’s international farming reputation by the disaster-plagued live sheep export trade.
“Our immediate concern; however, is for the safety and welfare of the animals on board that vessel,” she said.
“The RSPCA is not a party to any legal action at this time, and has no immediate plans to undertake any direct legal action at this stage.”
Dr Fowler said it is one month since the MV Bahijah set off on its ill-fated journey from Fremantle to the Middle East, and a full week since it got to Fremantle.
“Unbelievably, thousands of Australian sheep and cattle have now remained confined on that boat for 32 days straight.
“We’re deeply concerned the Department of Agriculture has not yet denied the exporter’s ill-conceived re-export application,” Dr Fowler said.
“We understand there are many conditions that need to be considered before this definitive decision can be made.
“Any issues with stocking density, risk of heat stress, the growing length of the sheep’s wool, poor body condition or injuries, lack of hygiene, any sign of illness or infection, and any further risk of delay due to climate conditions, marine traffic congestion or other – these are all among the regulatory reasons to deny an export application.”
Dr Fowler said the RSPCA believes these animals should be safely offloaded as soon as possible.
“The exporter Bassem Dabbah can act now to protect these animals from any further suffering by getting them off the vessel, urgently.
“The only ethical solution right now is for the exporter Bassem Dabbah to agree the animals should be offloaded, and make immediate arrangements with local stakeholders and the department.”
Final decision on shipment yet to be made
DAFF secretary Adam Fennessy said yesterday daily reports from the veterinarian on board the vessel continue to indicate there are no significant health or welfare concerns with the livestock that remain on board the vessel.
“At this time no final decision has been made by my department officials with respect to the livestock on the MV Bahijah.
“The department continues to assess the application to re-export the livestock provided by the exporter as a matter of priority,” he said.
“I want to emphasise that my department makes decisions on the basis of the application of the commercial exporter, taking into account all legislative requirements and relevant information.
“Right now, the ship is currently off the West Australian coast and is undertaking some routine cleaning,” he said.
“It is adequately provisioned for the livestock on board.”
Mr Fennessy said legislation sets out what the decision-maker must consider and be satisfied of in order to approve an application for export, including:
The legislative requirements have been met, including those in the Export Control Act and Animals Rules.
That importing country requirements have been or will be met before the livestock are imported into the importing country, for example, if an import permit is required and has or will be been obtained.
Arrangements for the voyage are appropriate to ensure the health and welfare of the livestock.
He said the process required the decision-maker to:
Carefully consider all relevant information to the decision, which can involve substantial amounts of information from a variety of sources and must be updated as circumstances change, especially information submitted to us by the commercial exporter.
Provide the commercial exporter with procedural fairness, including giving the exporter time to consider and respond to certain types of information.
Ensure that the department’s decision maker has satisfied any procedural and other requirements in the legislation in order to make a lawful decision, such as providing a notice of decision in writing.