The historic first shipment of Australian steers to China has coincided with news that a Chinese-owned consortium is about to launch two ships into the Australian livestock shipping trade.
The West Australian newspaper has reported that the Sino Marine Livestock Shipping Company, a joint venture involving three Chinese companies, is having two former bulk-carriers converted into refurbished livestock ships in Singapore.
The consortium hopes to have the first of the two US$25 million ($33 million) converted vessels, the MV Yangtze Harmony, approved for sailing in Australian waters and ready for operation later this month.
The consortium’s commercial operations are being assisted by WA-based corporate advisory firm Harmony Agriculture and Food Company.
Harmony’s executive general manager Steve Meerwald has extensive experience in Australia’s livestock export industry, having spent 30 years until 2013 as the managing director of Wellard Rural Exports during its growth to become Australia’s largest livestock exporter.
Mr Meerwald is currently in China and could not be contacted for further details, but he did confirm to Beef Central this morning that Sino Marine Livestock Shipping company is set to commence livestock shipping operations in the near future.
In details reported by the West Australian, the ships will have capacity for up to 5500 cattle and 18,000 sheep, and will primarily service ports in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
Due to their mid-range size, the ships would fill a gap in the shipping market by offering a exporters a vessel “that is between too small and too big,” Mr Meerwald told the newspaper.
“It is no secret that it has been difficult in recent times to fill the larger boats and this well help to resolve that issue.”
“These boats will be for contract use and could be utilised wherever there is a need for them,” Mr Meerwald said.
“Our company has been exporting dairy breeding cattle to China for several years and the boats are ideal for that.”
The development comes during a challenging period for Australia’s live cattle shipping trade, with high cattle prices and difficult demand conditions causing many to surrender long-term shipping charters. Late last year Wellard Rural Exports also sought expressions of interest for the sale of two of its five ships and pushed back the delivery date for another ship it is having built in Croatian to early 2019.