Thousands of sheep stranded in Western Australia after the crew of an export ship contracted coronavirus will be sent to the Middle East, despite a shipping ban.
- The Federal Government had refused to grant the Al Kuwait permission to travel
- The Department of Agriculture was concerned about the sheep dying on-board
- The sheep will now travel on a different ship, leaving on Wednesday
The future of the shipment of 56,000 sheep, worth an estimated $12 million, had hung in the balance, since docking in Fremantle in May.
The Federal Department of Agriculture this month refused to grant the Australian arm of a Kuwaiti exporter, Rural Export and Trading WA (RETWA), an exemption to put the sheep on a ship during the northern summer.
The trade ban period commenced on June 1 and is aimed at stopping sheep from overheating and dying on vessels.
But the Department of Agriculture will now allow some sheep to travel on the ship, after it approved a second application by RETWA.
“The exporter’s second application detailed an alternative approach for managing the voyage, including animal welfare,” the regulator said in a statement.
The exemption includes strict measures to protect the health and welfare of the sheep, including unloading at one port only and not loading an area on the vessel known to be hotter due to engine room location.
The ship must also set sail by Wednesday and will not be able to carry all 56,000 sheep due to weight restrictions.
Instead, approximately 50,000 will be selected based on those who are deemed best suited to tolerating heat, and a vet will join them on their journey.
The future of the remaining sheep is unclear.
In the public statement outlining the reasons, the department’s deputy secretary, David Hazlehurst, said in considering whether to grant the exemption, he accepted that a global pandemic was “an exceptional circumstance” and the restrictions adopted to address COVID-19 had been unprecedented.
“I also accepted that a COVID-19 infection would not have been factored into RETWA’s 12-month planning schedule when it was developed,” he said.
RETWA general manager Mike Gordon said the ventilation and heat tolerance of the sheep had been reviewed with “expert advice”.
“There are appropriate risk management practices and plans in place to ensure the health and welfare of the sheep during the voyage are protected,” Mr Gordon said.
The Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council also welcomed the announcement, saying the shipment will provide the Middle East with much needed protein and supply chain security.
The sheep are currently being held in a licensed live export feedlot in WA.