Live Export Shame

All News Updates & Public Comment => Live Export News Updates => : Export News Tasmania March 16, 2012, 06:43:33 PM

: It could happen in a heartbeat to Australian animals
: Export News Tasmania March 16, 2012, 06:43:33 PM
Opinion piece - Stop Tasmanian Animal Cruelty 15.03.2012
In one of the live export trade’s worst international disasters, about 2,750 cattle have died on the MV Gracia del Mar on a voyage from Brazil to Egypt. The ship, carrying 5,600 cattle was refused permission to dock in several Middle Eastern ports because of the dead animals, including Port Said, Djibouti, Sudan and Eritrea, and sailed the Red Sea until it became stranded with the suffering cattle inside.
It was reported that the ship sailed into a snow storm, which killed large numbers of the animals, then breakdowns affected the ventilation and feeding and watering systems. Appeals from animal advocacy organisations finally saw the hapless survivors of the catastrophe unloaded, but their whereabouts remain unknown.

Australia’s Standards for the Export of Livestock pay scant attention to the issue of exporting animals from the Australian winter into the Northern hemisphere summer, but none at all to shipping animals from the Australian summer to the Northern hemisphere winter.

A similar tragedy very nearly unfolded in Australia when the MV Al Messilah broke down just after leaving Adelaide last August, with ‘approximately’ 67,000 sheep on board. We say ‘approximately’ because DAFF (the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) apparently does not know how many animals are loaded, which leaves its published mortality reports open to serious question.
The ship was ordered to return to Port Adelaide for maritime safety and animal welfare reasons, but if was about nine days before the sheep were finally unloaded, by which time a reported 298 had died. The sheep were immediately transferred to a strict quarantine facility, but not before photographs and film footage emerged of the horrific conditions on the ship. See the news footage here:
Observers spoke of living sheep in crammed pens with the dead and dying, and all the dead animals were incinerated before an investigation could take place.

In a display of breathtaking indifference to the suffering of these animals, the exporter decided to re-export the sheep, on the MV Al Messilah and the MV Al Shuwaikh.

In the final analysis of the statistics we have been given by DAFF about these unfortunate animals, 2,519 sheep simply ‘went missing’. We understand, through persistent questioning, that they were sent to slaughter. But DAFF’s analysis of the numbers originally loaded and the numbers unloaded still leaves 99 sheep ‘unaccounted for’. We are persisting with our questioning.

The facts of the matter are that, if the live export industry wants to use old, re-vamped oil tankers, container ships and vehicle transporters (‘closed deck’ ships such as the MV Al Messilah) it can do so, with minimal compliance with the ASEL, OIE codes and the animal protection statutes by which the animals should be protected whilst still in Australia, or in Australian waters. The industry writes its own rules, then consistently ignores them, aided and abetted by a complicit government through the responsible authorities DAFF and AQIS.

Even the so-called pride of the Wellard fleet, the MV Ocean Drover, was renamed from Becrux after its shocking maiden voyage. 1,995 cattle and 60,000 were sent from Portland in Victoria to Saudi Arabia in July 2002. 880 cattle and 1,400 sheep died after the vessel met extreme temperatures (45 degrees) and humidity in the Arabian Gulf. The remaining animals were rejected by Saudi officials and had to remain on board until another buyer was found to accept them (in the UAE).

The last voyage to leave Tasmania was on the MV Al Messilah in February 2006. 71,308 sheep were loaded in Devonport amid a storm of protest, and 1,632 sheep died on the voyage. The mortality report found, inter alia, that Tasmanian sheep are ‘poorly adapted’ to long, cross equatorial voyages. It was also reported that many of the sheep were delivered to the AQIS ‘registered premises’ (feedlot) suffering from the painful and highly contagious ophthalmic disease keratoconjunctivitis (or pink eye), and that up to 50% of them had only been given a matter of hours to adapt to the pelletised feed they would be given on the ship rather than the statutory number of days. It was further reported that the exporter, expecting even higher mortalities, had loaded insufficient feed and a large number simply starved to death towards the end of the voyage.

The former vehicle transporter MV Al Messilah was built in 1980, and the MV Gracia del Mar in 1981.
Had the MV Al Messilah progressed further into its journey last August, and been in the open seas, this could have been a disaster on the scale of the MV Gracia del Mar. The sheep were set to travel, and did travel, from the Australian winter to the searing summer temperatures of the Middle East.

The MV Gracia del Mar is a converted container ship. Expert veterinary and maritime opinion suggests that former container ships – including the MV Ocean Shearer and the MV Maysora - have characteristics which make them roll and pitch differently, exposing the animals to worse sea-sickness. Former vehicle transports such as the MV Al Messilah and the infamous MV Cormo Express are closed deck ships, so any fault in the ventilation systems can have catastrophic effect.

But the live export industry is relentless. It knows that, no matter what the government claims it has put in place to improve animal welfare, it remains entirely self-regulating, with monitoring and enforcement by a government that is just as complicit in this international shame. Yet still the shiploads of misery leave Australian ports, week in, week out, year in, year out. Has the Australian community forsaken these pitiful victims?