A ship at the centre of outrage over live sheep exports has been refused permission to leave port with live exports in Fremantle until it meets animal health standards.
Shocking footage of sheep dying on board the ship was aired on Sixty Minutes on Sunday. Federal Agriculture Minster David Littleproud promised to “nail” live exporters who put animals in danger.
On Sunday, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority banned the ship Awassi Express from leaving port with an expected 65,000 sheep due to be loaded, until it met safety standards.
"AMSA has advised the master and ship operator that they will have to arrange a third party air flow verification report to prove compliance with air flow standards before an Australian Certificate for the Carriage of Livestock can be issued," an AMSA spokesperson said.
“The Panama-flagged livestock carrier MV Awassi Express reportedly suffered a high mortality rate on a voyage between Australia and Qatar in August 2017. The ship, loaded with 63,804 sheep and 50 cattle, departed the Port of Fremantle on 1 August and arrived at the Port of Hamad on 17 August. Unloading of livestock was conducted on 17, 19 and 24 August. The ship’s master reported a mortality rate of 3.76% (2400 sheep) which exceeds the reportable mortality rate of 2% as prescribed by the ASEL. Both the Department of Agriculture and AMSA investigated the incident under their respective jurisdictions.
“Evidence at the time indicated that the ship complied with Marine Order 43. Since AMSA’s investigations concluded, further information has been provided to AMSA about this voyage. AMSA had already planned to attend the ship at its next port of arrival in Australia, as it was due for an Australian Certificate for the Carriage of Livestock renewal inspection.
“AMSA inspectors attended MV Awassi Express in Fremantle yesterday to conduct the ACCL renewal inspection and took into account the additional information provided about the August 2017 voyage. The inspection raised some concerns about air flow over some pens.
“AMSA has advised the master and ship operator that they will have to arrange a third party air flow verification report to prove compliance with air flow standards before an Australian Certificate for the Carriage of Livestock can be issued.”
The Federal Department of Agriculture said the Animals Australia footage of sheep aboard a live export vessel shows conditions that are deplorable and unacceptable.
“The law that regulates the export of livestock includes strict requirements to ensure the health and welfare of animals. It is the responsibility of each exporter to ensure it meets those obligations.
“While the department is assessing this information, it is taking immediate action to add an independent department veterinarian to an upcoming voyage to the Middle East.
“This vet will monitor and record the health and welfare of all animals on board, send back daily reports and images and will also be able to issue directions on the vessel to ensure the welfare of the sheep.
“In addition to this measure, the department is moving to settle additional specific conditions on a forthcoming voyage to the Middle East to ensure that the health and welfare outcomes required under law are met, including adding an additional accredited stockman on top of the exporter’s normal practice of two accredited stockmen, improved ventilation equipment on the vessel, ensuring that decks are maintained to deliver animal health and welfare, animal welfare, feed, water and bedding inspected and recorded four times each day, including by the independent department vet, and a daily report with images of conditions provided to the department and reduced stocking density by 17.5 per cent.
It will also require the first port of discharge to be Kuwait when traveling to multiple ports in the Middle East, providing greater space for the remaining livestock as they head towards higher humidity ports.
Mr Littleproud said he requested an urgent briefing from the Department and wrote to industry asking what research they've undertaken about high heat mortalities.
“On Wednesday 4 April I saw vision supplied by Animals Australia which it indicates is of multiple voyages from 2016 and one from 2017. The videos shocked, angered and saddened me. The conditions shown in the footage were disgraceful and I remain deeply angry about the conditions those sheep endured.
“I immediately requested the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources investigate the footage I'd seen, which Animals Australia supplied the Department. I also gave a press conference explaining how angry I am about the treatment of those animals.
“I also contacted Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon to keep him updated on the issue. As I've done with the Murray Darling Basin Plan, we must reach across the aisle, put the politics aside and work together. It's time we aimed to end wars, not start them. Australians are sick of politicians shouting at each other and I intend to lead on this issue and aim to bring people together.
“Many Australians are no doubt shocked and upset. Farmers who care for these animals from birth will be deeply distressed at the footage.”
Mr Littleproud will meet today with Animals Australia in Melbourne, before a teleconference with the RSPCA and then meetings with the industry.
“There's no point complaining about the footage. The footage wouldn't exist if the conditions on the boat were good for those sheep. We need a sustainable trade with good animal welfare outcomes. We need an industry which does not tolerate wrongdoing. We need an environment in which whistleblowers are comfortable coming forward.
“The live export trade is important for our farmers. It provides a floor in the market for older sheep and fills demand overseas for live sheep. A ban on the whole industry would only punish those who have done no wrong - both exporters and farmers. Many farming families remain devastated from the 2011 suspension and that class action against the Australian Government still continues.
“I've been Minister for Agriculture for just more than three months. I can't change the past but I aim to influence the future. I will support live exporters who do the right thing. I will not support anyone who does the wrong thing. Those who do the wrong thing should be nailed, not slapped on the wrist.
“There is a live export ship due to sail from Perth Tuesday. The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, which as the regulator of the industry, acts independently of my office, will make an announcement around that shipment tonight.”