After having said it would not agree to any exemption on its ban on live sheep exports, the federal Department of Agriculture has now allowed a ship to transport tens of thousands of live sheep to the Middle East.
The Al Kuwait was delayed from leaving a Fremantle Port because 20 of its crew tested positive to COVID-19. On June 2, the department said it would not allow the ship to leave with 56,000 sheep to the Middle East. But on June 15, it cleared the ship to leave the port.
The federal government placed a ban on live sheep exports to the Middle East between June 1 and mid-September, as part of new laws that prohibit dangerous summer shipments.
The ship’s owners applied for an exemption to sail after June 1. The relevant department of had been told by a climatologist that sea temperatures were expected to be hotter than usual, meaning that the sheep would be in danger of succumbing to the same fate as those that perished on the Awassi Express in 2017. Footage of dead and dying sheep, and the sickening conditions for the animals then led to calls for an end to the export of live animals.
The decision to allow the Al Kuwait live animal shipment to proceed means that the animals will be subjected to extreme and extended suffering. It also makes a mockery of the new animal welfare laws, which were introduced this year in response to thousands of sheep dying from heat stress aboard the Awassi Express.
RSPCA spokesperson Dr Jed Goodfellow said on June 17 that “special conditions” won't protect the sheep. Some $2.3 million dollars of government-funded testing “failed to find any way to improve conditions on these live export ships” but the government has still sent tens of thousands of animals into the sweltering Middle East where temperatures continue to rise to 40° Celcius with high humidity.
The animal welfare organisation said the sheep should have been well cared for in the Australian feedlot, while alternative local markets were found through West Australian abattoirs.
It also expressed concern for the affected workers, many of whom work under notoriously difficult conditions on board live export ships.