RE-EXPORT of an Israeli-owned vessel’s sheep and cattle shipment from Fremantle in Western Australia is achievable, according to industry stakeholders.
However, RSPCA Australian chief scientist Dr Suzanne Fowler said today the organisation will not support any plan to subject the animals “to yet another prolonged and torturous sea journey”.
Experienced livestock export veterinarian Dr Peter Arnold said there had been other examples of livestock being off-loaded off vessels that returned to Australia before re-export.
The 78 year-old retired veterinarian worked for more than 40 years in the trade and has been long-time supporter of live export.
Before the trade regulator, the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, decided last Sunday not to approve the MV Bahijah’s application to re-export its livestock to Israel, Dr Arnold believed the animals had plenty of food, water, ventilation and space on the vessel, currently standing off Fremantle.
“Better than being on a farm. There needs to be a logical outcome. Export them or off load them. Either is ok. Doing nothing is not. The ship itself is a perfect quarantine station. Keep Greenies and inexperienced people away. I am experienced,” Dr Arnold wrote in a comment on Beef Central.
Dr Arnold told Sheep Central Australia had “fantastic quarantine regulation and administration people”, along with the necessary facilities to hold and rest the livestock before re-export.
“We have all the expertise, experience and facilities to do that,” he said.
“It has kept this country free of disease.”
Dr Arnold said he has been amused at the publicity and over-reaction of the government to the vessel’s situation.
“This really is a storm in a teacup because there really is no problem … overseas no problem, look after the animals is an absolute must, get on with it.”
Dr Arnold said elements of the media influenced by animal activists and the RSPCA have been “trying to make something out of this that is really nothing” because the issue is newsworthy.
“If the media can get somebody to pass a comment who has some form of reputation, like the RSPCA or animals rights groups, they will publicise that first.”
Dr Arnold said it has to be appreciated that there are issues like vector and arthropod-borne disease risks to be considered with the livestock returning to Australia “and we have to be careful of that.”
“We can’t be Peter Arnold arrogant and say everything is OK, we have to be a little careful that this can happen, but we have the people with the skills to handle it.”
Shipment’s predicament not unprecedented – ALEC leader
Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive officer Mark Harvey-Sutton said there had been instance where vessels carrying cattle had experienced mechanical difficulties and have had to return to Australia.
“I would say instances like this are highly unusual and exceptional, but certainly not unprecedented.
“But this would be the longest voyage that has been returned in the history of the trade.”
The sheep and cattle have been on the MV Bahijah for more than a month since leaving Australia for Israel on 5 January, and then returning under DAFF orders due to tensions in the Red Sea.
DAFF approval to disembark MV Bahijah
WAFarmers Livestock Council president Geoff Pearson said the MV Bahijah is waiting for another live export vessel, the Al Messilah, to load sheep before it unloaded its livestock, possibly by the weekend or early next week.
Mr Pearson said once the Al Messilah was loaded there would space in a Baldivis quarantine premises and feedlot to unload the MV Bahijah’s 14,000 sheep and 1500 cattle. He said DAFF has given approval for the exporter Bassem Dabbah to disembark the livestock.
“The livestock will be rested until such time as we can get another permit issued and we will go again.”
Mr Pearson said he was aware of cases where cattle had been unloaded from vessels in northern Australia for later re-export.
“I believe there have been two cattle ships that have been offloaded before in the north, but nothing in the south and no sheep.”
He said DAFF has indicated the MV Bahijah’s livestock carried a low biosecurity risk given they not been on foreign shores and had been in low-risk vector zones hundreds of kilometres for other countries.
Re-export defies common sense – RSPCA
RSPCA Australia chief scientist Dr Suzanne Fowler said the RSPCA is strongly opposed to any proposal to re-export the MV Bahijah animals.
“It absolutely defies common sense that this is even being considered,” she said.
“Given the length of time and amount of stress and fatigue these animals are already suffering, such a move would be unprecedented and extremely dangerous.
“We simply don’t know how much rest could possibly be enough to recover from this ordeal – three months, six months, a year? There’s no evidence and no precedent,” she said.
“To re-export them now would be one massive experiment and surely, these animals should not be exposed to such an unknown and significant risk. They have suffered enough already.”
Dr Fowler said between unloading, adjusting to a new and unfamiliar environment, shearing of the sheep, appropriate vet treatment as needed, and then reloading – the truth is the animals will get very little rest at all.
“It’s a recipe for disaster.
“To subject these animals to another 30+ days of the conditions that are inherent to live export, with sea sickness from the motion of the vessel, increased risk of lameness for cattle who stand for longer than normal, sheep having to stand in their own waste for days on end, and a high risk of heat stress, is an abhorrent suggestion.”
Dr Fowler said the RSPCA has already provided to the department, and will continue to remind them of, the scientific evidence that clearly states that these animals are stressed and fatigued after more than 30 days at sea.
“There is a plethora of available scientific evidence that shows transport by sea is stressful, and that stress can lead to increased risk of disease and suffering for the animals, and further to this, increases risk of death.
“We will continue to call on the exporters to make the right decision here and start making arrangements for the animals to be safely offloaded, using low stress management techniques given the already compromised nature of the animals, and to ensure they are processed humanely on Australian shores,” she said.
“Not only do we not support the re-export of these animals, we call for all shipments to and through the Red Sea to be voluntarily suspended by the exporters, including halting any ill-conceived plans for extended land or sea journeys to try and circumvent this risk – you can read the open letter we’ve addressed to the live export industry today.”
Sheep Central asked DAFF if the rules for live export of animals from Australia encompassed the re-export of sheep and/or cattle after such a lengthy voyage, and/or if there is a minimum time that livestock on a vessel at sea for a month must be rested on shore before being eligible for re-export.
DAFF responded with: “A more detailed statement of reasons underpinning the recent regulatory decision is not yet available, however will be published as soon as possible. We will provide a direct link (as) when this is online.”