THE first live sheep shipment to leave Fremantle since licence suspensions halted the trade three months ago is expected to depart Western Australia within a week.
The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has refused to confirm approval for any shipments, but Livestock Shipping Services is expected to load 21,000 sheep for Jordan and about 10,000 cattle for Israel on the MV Maysora in the next few days.
The LSS website says the Maysora has a carrying capacity of about 110,000 sheep (or 70,000 sheep and 12,000 cattle), which suggests the vessel will be loaded well below its capacity for the expected 18-day journey.
The vessel will be the first to load sheep for export to the Middle East from Western Australia since Emanuel Exports and its subsidiary EMS Rural Exports had their export licences suspended in June-July this year. Both licences were subsequently cancelled by the department.
The department said it would not comment on individual exports, but from 1 May to 31 October 2018, exporters are required to comply with significantly reduced sheep stocking densities for Middle East voyages, allowing 11-39 percent more space than prescribed under the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock.
Exporters conducting Middle East shipments during this period must also do independent auditing of pen air turnover readings to confirm the data entered into the industry heat stress risk assessment model is accurate; only use vessels that have automatic watering arrangements installed for each sheep deck and reduce the notifiable mortality level for sheep exported by sea from 2 to 1pc. The department said it is also actively considering the conditions that will apply to voyages after 31 October.
However, the RSPCA has condemned the Australian Government’s decision to allow the Maysora shipment to proceed. The RSPCA said the decision comes as it is awaiting the results of a Freedom of Information request to access images and footage captured on board live sheep export ships, since the government began placing departmental observers on board in April.
“Despite government and exporter assurances of improved conditions, we’ve seen no information, photos or footage from those observers, and that’s very worrying,” RSPCA Australia senior policy officer Dr Jed Goodfellow said.
“The decision to allow the Maysora to sail throws caution to the wind as the government is still awaiting the outcomes from three critical reviews into the adequacy of the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock, the heat stress risk assessment model, and the Department of Agriculture’s ability to regulate the trade.
“Approving further shipments into the Middle Eastern summer before receiving this critical advice is simply reckless, and shows that the Government is yet again willing to place exporter profits before animal welfare,” Dr Goodfellow said.
The department said it has required a qualified independent observer on all eight sheep voyages that have departed Australia since April, to monitor the performance of the accredited vet and exporter in managing the welfare of the animals and provide daily reports.
“This is an interim measure while an ongoing program is being developed. The department is aiming to start publishing reports from observers in October, once the ongoing program is implemented,” a department spokesperson said.
Shadow Minister for Agriculture Joel Fitzgibbon said it has been 13 weeks since Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud “brought the live sheep export trade to a temporary stop.”
“The Turnbull Morrison Government has provided no assistance to sheep meat producers in that time, but the minister has given the trade a green light again, despite the fact that nothing has changed.”