Pirate threat, daughter sway exporter

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

The exporter with a shipment of cattle anchored off Fremantle has revealed the threat of pirates and the risk to his daughter's life played a part in the decision to turn back from a voyage to Israel.

Alan Schmidt said his daughter Mimosa was working on the Pearl of Para as a junior stockwoman when it had mechanical trouble and turned back to Fremantle after three days at sea with 5240 cattle on board.

The 24-year-old, on her first live export voyage, has stayed with the vessel since it anchored in Cockburn Sound for repairs last Monday. If the voyage continues as planned, she will stay with the cattle until they reach Israel.

By then Mimosa and the cattle will have been at sea for about five weeks, have run the gauntlet of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and crossed the Red Sea.

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On the way, the Pearl of Para will make a scheduled stop at the Maldives to pick up armed guards to protect the vessel and crew from being captured by pirates and held for ransom.

Mr Schmidt said two factors - the safety of the crew and the welfare of the cattle - were behind the decision taken in consultation with the captain early last Saturday to turn back to repair a propeller shaft coupling.

"I got a call at 2am and was told the ship could proceed but it would have been at five to six knots through a pirate zone where it should be doing 14knots," he said.

"We didn't want to put the crew at risk. There was also the issue of rations being reduced so the cattle would be pushing to get to food at the end of the voyage and we didn't want that either."

Mr Schmidt is racing to have a replacement part made in Perth, the ship repaired, restocked with feed and the necessary approvals in place for the voyage to re-start on Tuesday.

If the three-week journey to Israel does not resume by then, the cattle will be unloaded in Fremantle which brings into play quarantine issues because the ship crossed into international waters.

"I'm quietly confident that we are going to make it. The cattle are fine, the crew are fine. It will be about having the approvals in place, not about the readiness of the ship," Mr Schmidt said.

A mechanical failure on the Pearl of Para last year was blamed for death of 400 pregnant cattle on a voyage from the US to Russia. The ship was upgraded before being accredited to operate in the Australian industry.

The RSPCA and other groups have renewed calls for the industry to be phased out in the wake of the latest incident and Stop Live Exports is holding a protest rally in Fremantle tomorrow.

Mr Schmidt's family has been part of the Australian cattle industry for six generations. His grandfather and father were both managing directors of the Australian Agricultural Company.

Mr Schmidt has worked on the biggest cattle stations and was Australia's biggest exporter of livestock to Japan before selling his business to Elders. He then became Elders' international marketing manager.

The 60-year-old, who is back running his own business, said the cattle were calm and in good hands with Mimosa, a stockman and a veterinarian on board.

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