Live export claims ‘fanciful’

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

Livestock exporter Wellard has hit out at animal welfare critics after one of its crippled vessels made it to Vietnam with thousands of cattle that were part of an aborted shipment to Israel.

The Ocean Outback was heading from Ho Chi Minh City to Singapore for repairs yesterday after unloading 5607 cattle.

Only three cattle died on the voyage from Fremantle in what chief executive Mauro Balzarini said was a clear indication that they were in good condition despite problems with the Ocean Outback.

The saga over the shipment began on December 29 when one of the Ocean Outback’s two engines broke down just after it left Fremantle’s inner harbour for Israel with a consignment of sheep and cattle. The sheep were unloaded under special quarantine arrangements after it became clear the vessel could not be repaired in Australia and would take too long to reach the Middle East on one engine.

Wellard needed to purchase the sheep and cattle from the company which had chartered its vessel as part of the solution. It re-sold the cattle to a customer in Vietnam and the Ocean Outback limped away from Fremantle of January 10.

The survival rate of 99.94 per cent is above the 99 per cent minimum benchmark required to trigger an automatic investigation by Federal authorities.

With the inclusion of four mortalities before Wellard purchased the cattle, the voyage survival rate was 99.87 per cent.

“The results are in, and they prove that the many fanciful animal welfare claims made at the time of the vessel’s delayed departure were spurred by a political agenda without any knowledge about the conditions on board the vessel and the condition of the cattle,” Mr Balzarini said.

“These results, which are objective rather than unfounded speculation, provide clear evidence that the cattle remained in good health and were largely unaffected by the delayed departure.”

About 7500 sheep from the vessel are under quarantine in Wellard’s feedlot and will be processed at its Beaufort River Meats abattoir.

Mr Balzarini conceded the engine trouble was “not ideal” for Wellard or the industry, with the RSPCA WA threatening to seek a warrant to gain access to the vessel at the height of the controversy.

Wellard’s shares closed up 2¢ to $1.37.

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