New details emerge after hundreds of sheep die on live export ship

Exclusive, Nick ButterlyThe West Australian
The livestock carrier Al Messilah in Fremantle Harbour.
Camera IconThe livestock carrier Al Messilah in Fremantle Harbour. Credit: Sandra Jackson/The West Australian

Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan will ask the Solicitor-General whether State animal cruelty laws could be used to prosecute WA live exporters after appalling details emerged of hundreds of sheep dying during a disastrous voyage to the Middle East last year.

Documents obtained under freedom of information laws show the crew of live export ship the Al Messilah struggled to dispose of the mounting number of dead sheep and how rotting carcasses disintegrated in the intense summer humidity of the Gulf.

In an official report to the Federal Department of Agriculture, Perth-based exporter Emanuel described in grim detail how it lost count of the number of dead and dying sheep as it arrived in Doha on July 17.

“While there a v (sic) difficult situation to organise the collection of bodies on a fully loaded ship where the usual collection places would mean blocking discharge routes,” the report said.

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“Marking bodies was ineffective as they were decomposing rapidly in the heat making marks difficult to distinguish and keep track of.”

The report, which was obtained by activist group Vets Against Live Export, notes the Al Messilah is a converted car carrier “so there are no open decks — thus no exposure to wind, rain, sun waves and sea spray, etc”.

Under export rules, companies are required file a report to Canberra if more than 2 per cent of the animals die on a voyage.

The Al Messilah reported a mortality rate of 2.51 per cent but in a statement on its website the Department of Agriculture recorded a mortality rate of 4.36 per cent.

Of 69,322 animals loaded in Fremantle, 1741 were reported by the company to have died.

However, it noted a difference of another 1286 animals it could not account for.

The company had it an excellent record of low mortality rates.
Camera IconThe company had it an excellent record of low mortality rates. Credit: File Mogens Johansen/The West Australian

Ms MacTiernan said it was essential animal welfare standards were upheld to ensure public confidence in the live export industry.

“What is quite clear is that we have a system that is not working,” she said. “No matter how horrific the situation is for the animals, there is very little penalty for companies.”

Emanuel managing director Graham Daws said the episode was “absolutely tragic” and happened because the ship hit a pocket of hot weather near Doha.

He said the company had an excellent record of low mortality rates. “It is not a normal situation,” he said. “This is a one-off.”

Vets Against Live Export spokeswoman Sue Foster said the case showed industry rules on how much space animals needed for live export voyages were inadequate.

The Federal Government announced a review of live export standards this year.

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