Loaded cattle ship remains anchored off Freo

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

UPDATE 1.55pm: A live export ship that hit mechanical problems on a voyage to Israel remains anchored off Fremantle today amid assurances from industry and government officials that the cattle on board remain in good condition.

The Pearl of Para, which left Fremantle on Wednesday last week with 5240 cattle, was inspected by engineers this morning to identify the repairs needed.

Australian Livestock Exporters' Council chief executive Alison Penfold said a problem with the propeller shaft had not affected the ventilation, feed and water systems on the vessel.

A veterinarian and experienced stockmen were on board and no animal welfare problems had been reported.

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The ship had been expected to take three weeks to reach Israel, which is WA's most valuable customer for live cattle in 2012-13 with exports worth $41 million.

Ms Penfold said the captain decided to return to Fremantle after three days at sea because it was the best way to ensure the welfare of the Brahman cross cattle while conducting repairs.

"The exporter, AH & R Schmidt, completely supports the decision of the captain," Ms Penfold said.

"The welfare of these cattle is our responsibility and we want to make sure there are no issues."

A Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry vet boarded the vessel to check on the cattle this morning.

AH & R Schmidt is a relatively new player in WA but Alan Schmidt has been involved in the cattle and meat industry for more than 40 years. He has exported livestock for more than 15 years.

A decision on whether the cattle need to be offloaded and trans-shipped will be made after an assessment of the time needed to complete repairs.

The exporter has advised Israeli authorities of the mechanical problems and is keeping them informed of the ship's progress.

"The cattle are settled and it is very early in the shipment," Ms Penfold said.

"Subject to professional advice, we think the best welfare will be maintained by avoiding unnecessary movement, unloading and reloading.

"If repairs can be completed in a timely manner, then the overall duration on board for cattle will be well within normal travel times for the type of livestock on board and the high standard of the vessel.

"If repairs take longer, we will either tranship the cattle to another vessel or unload the cattle and hold them until the vessel is ready to depart."

A DAFF spokeswoman said the on-board vet was making daily reports and there had been no deaths or welfare concerns.

Meanwhile the RSPCA has called on the new Federal Government to commit to strengthening the live export regulatory system and expand meat export markets.

The Association said the same ship experienced a mechanical failure last year that led to the death of 400 pregnant cows en route from the USA to Russia.

RSPCA Australia chief executive said the live export trade was a very risky business and when it went wrong it was usually animals that paid the price.

"The only way to manage the risks is by strong government regulation and developing alternatives," she said.

“Today’s event yet again highlights the risks involved with live exports, risks that would be avoided if these animals had been processed in Australia and the meat exported.

"Until that occurs, it is vital that the current regulations are strengthened."

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