Independent Observer Offered for Live Export Voyages
RSPCA Australia has written to the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and all major live export companies proposing to place an independent observer on at least the next eight long-haul live sheep shipments.
The RSPCA’s offer comes after the 60 Minutes program recently aired whistle-blower footage taken onboard live export voyages. Throughout the program, footage from five separate voyages is shown depicting thousands of sheep suffering severe heat stress; sheep caked in melted feces and urine; injured and sick animals left to die slowly; decomposed bodies left in pens with living sheep and pregnant ewes giving birth and their lambs dying.
While the vessel at the center of that footage – the Awassi Express – has since been detained in Fremantle, another converted car carrier, the Maysora, is now headed to Turkey via Egypt.
“At this point in time, we are very concerned the Department is making decisions that do not reflect the gravity of the situation,” said RSPCA Australia Chief Scientist and Strategy Officer Dr Bidda Jones. “The Department has already granted an export permit for the MV Maysora, which left under cover of darkness early Thursday morning crammed full with around 77,000 sheep and 9,500 cattle.”
The Department placed an observer on board the Maysora. “Otherwise, it’s business as usual for the live exporters,” says Jones. “Right now, the animals on the Maysora are enduring the same overcrowding seen on the Awassi Express. These conditions do not allow sheep to all lie down over the four+ week journey.”
She says: “These animals face one of the longest of all long-haul voyages – confined to these appalling conditions for up to 31 days and facing rising temperatures and potentially rough conditions at sea. As with the Awassi Express, there is one veterinarian onboard responsible for the health and welfare of over 86,000 animals.”
The MV Bader III, another livestock carrier with a similar capacity, was due to arrive for loading in Fremantle around 4pm on Friday. The Maysora, Bader and the Al Shuwaikh are the only remaining twin-tier livestock export vessels in operation. This type of vessel is slated to be phased out due to ventilation and inspection issues. Over 4,000 sheep died on the Bader during a single voyage in September 2013.
The Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council has responded to what it called “extremely distressing video of live sheep export conditions” by proposing a range of steps to strengthen accountability and transparency in the industry. Council CEO Simon Westaway said in a statement on Thursday the onboard conditions filmed were plainly unacceptable. He said industry was acutely aware the footage shows more needs to be done to reduce risks during voyages to the Arabian Gulf by building on existing welfare practices.
“The regulations provide the framework for mitigating heat stress, managing sick sheep, ensuring access to food, water and ventilation and the maintenance of dry and appropriately stocked pens,” Westaway said. “Not only are industry, government, producers and welfare groups already revisiting that framework, we now need to reinforce the independence of the reporting processes to ensure standards are met.”
Westaway says export supply chain linking Australian sheep producers and Arabian Gulf customers stretch back six decades. “These long-standing partnerships must continue to modernize to remain ethically and economically viable.”