WESTERN Australian farm leaders have backed live exporter Livestock Shipping Services in rejecting criticism of conditions on board the live export vessel MV Maysora before it departed Fremantle last week.
In a report confirmed by the office of Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan, The Sunday Times at the weekend quoted the minister referring to WA Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development inspectors seeing dead sheep and others that couldn’t lie down without being trampled and unable to access food and water on the vessel.
The ship departed Fremantle late last week bound for Turkey with 74,000 sheep and 8000 cattle.
According to Ms MacTiernan, the DPIRD inspectors claimed some water troughs were empty, and many were heavily contaminated with faeces, with some cattle reportedly being trampled and not able to regain their footing because manure had turned into a slippery liquid slurry.
Ms MacTiernan has suggested a ban on live animal shipments during the northern summer and the phasing out of older live animal export vessels. West Australian Premier Mark McGowan has said he is open to using state laws to block livestock carriers breaching animal welfare standards from leaving the state’s ports.
However, WAFarmers president Tony York and Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook, who also inspected the Maysora shipment have hit back at the description of the on-board conditions by DPIRD and Ms MacTiernan’s leaking of its contents, possibly for political purposes. They are also demanding the release of the DPIRD report to the farmer bodies.
Mr York said there was no indication from the ship’s owners or operator that the inspection had revealed anything untoward, and condemned the state inspectors for not acting on any concerns they had before the ship slipped anchor.
“It is greatly disappointing that the operator has been forced to clarify statements that have been selectively construed from the leaked report to imply inappropriate standards.
“The public has been led to believe some aspects of animal welfare conditions on the Maysora are inadequate; however, the ship met all government regulations and standards, there were reasonable procedures in place, and there were no reported breeches at the time of our visit,” Mr York said.
“As a livestock farmer, I can attest that it is not unusual for stock to contaminate water troughs, even moments after they are cleaned, and for stock to be without feed for short periods of time while settling into new surroundings and pens.
“In these situations – both on farm and while at sea – the most important course of action is to ensure procedures are in place for the regular cleaning of troughs and maintenance of feed supplies,” he said.
“It is the role of the Federal Government as the trade regulator to enforce the live export animal welfare standards it has set out.
“Given this, we question why actions were not taken by the inspectors to prevent the ship’s departure from Fremantle Port if there were any concerns about conditions on board.”
Mr York said while WAFarmers has not seen the DPIRD report, the organisation maintained that live sheep export shipments should not occur without proper procedures being put in place to uphold the highest standards of live export animal welfare.
“WAFarmers supports the Federal ASEL review and has offered a number of suggestions as to how to prevent any recurrence of the August 2017 Awassi Express incident,” Mr York said.
“WAFarmers reiterates that it does not and will not accept any breeches of animal welfare regulations, and seeks to have any possibility of another incident eliminated through the McCarthy review.
“The live sheep trade offers a large economic benefit to the WA sheep and sheep meat industry, and its cessation would very significantly impact both livestock farmer incomes and the Western Australian economy,” he said.
Mr Seabrook reiterated there was “nothing untoward” on the Maysora. He noticed one sheep that had escaped its pen and one dead sheep, which is not unusual and can happen when handling large numbers of sheep. He was happy with the pen space available to the sheep.
“I did not see faeces in the water and the ship was crawling with stockmen and staff.
“It is not being portrayed in any way in the way that it actually was.”
He said Minister MacTiernan was politicising the Maysora inspection and was known to be against the trade.
“I think she has suddenly become aware of the fact that she has very limited powers.
“What the premier needs to do is talk to a few other people rather than take advice from a biased minister.”
LSS Managing Director Ahmad Ghosheh the “inaccurate reports regarding animal welfare on LSS vessel the Maysora need to be corrected.”
“I was present when WA Department of Primary Industries inspectors came aboard the Maysora on Wednesday 11 April and can confirm no attempt was made to stop their inspection.
“I can also confirm the Australian Government Accredited Veterinarian was on board the vessel from the commencement of loading at Port Adelaide,” he said.
Mr Ghosheh said welfare queries arising from the inspection were reported to myself, the on-board veterinarian and Maysora officers prior to the inspectors’ departure, and questions were answered to the apparent satisfaction of the inspectors in the context of the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock.
When some water troughs in newly loaded pens were empty, it was explained that ASEL requires that water must be provided to sheep within 12 hours of loading, he said.
“Similarly, when faeces were observed in some water troughs, it was explained that troughs are regularly cleaned by the 35 livestock crew members in accordance with regulatory requirements.
“On the cattle deck, concerns about an injured animal were flagged, whereupon it was explained that the animal was under observation in a hospital pen and provided with appropriate veterinary care,” he said.
“Cattle pens which were reported as slippery had been attended to with corrective measures such as the provision of extra saw dust and were being closely monitored in an ongoing fashion.”
Mr Ghosheh regretted the death of two sheep in the total sheep consignment of more than 70,000 head, but said this did not necessarily represent a welfare failure nor ASEL breach.
He said other specific concerns reportedly included in the leaked WA Government report were not raised in the post inspection debrief.
“It is now 11 days since the WA DPI inspection and as yet no formal report has been provided to LSS. “This delay, given a copy of the report has been provided to the Federal Government and evidently leaked to the media, undermines the integrity of the inspection process.”
The latest conflicting Maysora condition reports prompted another call from RSPCA to end the trade; however, a Department of Agriculture and Water Resources spokesperson said an independent vet on board the vessel has investigated all issues raised.
“The department has confirmed that the health and welfare of animals on board is being maintained in accordance with the required Australian standards.
“The department is maintaining a strong evidence base to support these findings, including photos and video footage of the conditions on board,” the spokesperson said.
“The majority of issues identified by WA inspectors were witnessed at the time a large volume of animals were being loaded onto the vessel for departure and do not reflect the conditions maintained on the voyage.
“An Australian Accredited Veterinarian was on board the vessel for the journey between Adelaide and Freemantle.”
The DAWR spokesperson said animals on board have been loaded in accordance with the required stocking densities.
“It took 24 to 48 hours for sheep to be settled across the vessel as per the agreed load plan; this is normal for consignments between 65,000 and 77,000 animals.”
The spokesperson said stock water on the vessel is clean and in plentiful supply. One animal injured in the loading process has recovered well and has been returned to the pen with other cattle following veterinary observation.