Live export boat in fire drama

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

A silo of feed aboard a Russian-bound live animal ship has combusted, leaving the vessel stranded and thousands of cattle waiting to load.

The fire broke out on the 17,500 capacity Emanuel Exports-owned vessel, Awassi Express, while docked at Portland in Victoria late last week.

The ship had been contracted by Landmark Global exports to supply Australian cattle to the lucrative but challenging Russian market.

Victorian Country Fire Authority crews on board discovered the starboard side of the fodder storage silo on the back of the vessel was on fire and spreading to the rest of the storage area.

Incident controller Mark Gunning from CFA said the unloading of the 800 tonnes of pelletised fodder started about 1pm on Saturday into waiting trucks.

"Suppression activities included the injection of an inert gas (nitrogen) into the sealed silo in an attempt to remove the oxygen within the silo. This method has been successful in reducing the temperature within the silo," he said.

The shipment has been delayed while it was on the cusp of the bitterly cold Russian winter, with the delay causing the potential that the cattle could be shipped from Australian summer conditions to temperatures as low as -20C on arrival in Russia.

_Countryman _ understands that last year a mid-winter shipment to Russia resulted in hundreds of cattle mortalities because of the cold.

Industry speculation surrounding last week's fire incident suggested the prospect the toxic fodder was going to be dumped into the ocean, but those fears were quashed with authorities confirming the pellets would be unloaded and transported off site to an approved holding facility.

Industry concern was also mounting that the unusual incident had the potential to draw unneeded negative further attention to the already controversial industry if the situation became an environmental incident.

Authorities have mounted an investigation as to the cause of the outbreak, with the suggestion bad fodder could have been responsible for the fire starting not being ruled out.

Landmark Global chief executive Lach MacKinnon said he expected the incident to delay the shipment for about a fortnight.

"The several thousand head of cattle which were to be loaded have been put in a feedlot close by," he said.

"We have operated many successful shipments to Russia already and we don't expect the delay to cause too many problems."

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