Live export trade set to lift anchor

Cally Dupe and Jenne BrammerCountryman
The Al Kuwait at Fremantle Port.
Camera IconThe Al Kuwait at Fremantle Port. Credit: Iain Gillespie

The first live sheep export ship to leave WA in nearly three months could set sail next week, if all goes to plan for exporter Rural Export and Trading WA.

The well-known live export carrier the MV Al Kuwait is steaming back to Fremantle to collect a load of WA sheep — welcome news to farmers keen to sell wethers after a dry winter with little green feed on the ground and water in dams.

Perth-based company RETWA started canvassing WA farmers for sheep two weeks ago and expects to have no trouble sourcing about 50,000 sheep to fill its order.

RETWA ships sheep on behalf of Kuwait Livestock Transport and Trading, WA’s biggest customer for live sheep to supply Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman.

The ship departed Dubai this week and is set to end its 12-day journey in Fremantle just as the export ban ends on September 15.

Loading is expected to take two days, with the ship expected to set sail in the third week of September.

New shipping restrictions in April banned live sheep exports to Kuwait and Jordan from June 1 to September 14. The ban is longer for Oman (May 8 to September 14) and Qatar — Australia’s second biggest live sheep customer worth $31.8 million — from May 22 to September 22.

The Al Kuwait’s planned arrival has been welcomed by live export advocacy group The Livestock Collective, with director Steven Bolt saying farmers were eager to sell sheep after a long, dry winter.

“The pause had a significant effect and particularly on farmers in parts of WA that have been very dry,” Mr Bolt, who farms at Corrigin, said. “Wethers are always the sheep to be sold when seasonal conditions become tighter.”

A RETWA spokesman said the shipment, for Kuwait, would be welcomed by customers hit by a lack of airfreight due to COVID-19.

The Al Kuwait will be under strict scrutiny when it berths at Fremantle, after 20 of its 48 crew members tested positive for COVID-19 in Fremantle in May.

The outbreak left the future of 56,000 sheep ready for export at a Baldivis feedlot in limbo because the northern hemisphere summer ban on shipping sheep to the Middle East came into effect on June 1.

In getting approval to sail, RETWA had to apply to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment for an exemption, which was rejected when the application involved a different ship.

However, DAWE approved a second application to use the more modern Al Kuwait, after the ship was disinfected and sick crew members recovered.

Ports Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the Fremantle Port Authority would work with WA Health to ensure the vessel’s reporting was reliable, and the strict protocols had been extremely effective in stopping any spread of COVID-19 from international ships to the WA community.

Analysis by Mecardo last year revealed the live export industry provided more than 3000 full-time jobs across Australia and returned about $100 million to the farm gate.

The study showed nearly 30 per cent of WA’s sheep and lamb turn-off went into the live export trade during the past five years.

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