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Animal deaths on livestock carrier spark widespread outrage

About 2,400 sheep died from heat stress while being transported to the Middle East from Australia in August 2017, triggering an investigation by Australia’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, which published its findings last week.

More than 2,400 sheep died during an August 2017 voyage of the livestock carrier Awassi Express from Australia to the Middle East.

   The death of a large number of sheep last year on a ship that was transporting them from Australia to the Middle East has sparked an outcry from animal rights activists and Australian agriculture officials.
   During an August 2017 voyage of the livestock carrier Awassi Express from Freemantle to Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, 2,400 sheep died, 3.79 percent of the total consignment of 63,804 animals.
   The incident became the subject of an investigation by Australia’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, which published its findings last week.
   The investigation found the sheep were prepared and transported in accordance with Australian Standards and that the cause of the animal deaths was heat stress, with the peak in mortalities corresponding to extreme heat and humidity experienced in Qatar.
   David Littlefield, the department’s minister, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. he was “shocked and gutted” after viewing video footage from the ship that was given to him by the animal rights group Animals Australia. The Australian version of “60 Minutes” is reportedly planning to air that same footage on its program this Sunday.
   “This is the livelihoods of Australian farmers that are on that ship,” said Littlefield. “That is their pride and joy and it’s just total bullshit that what I saw is taking place.”
   The Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council also described the Animals Australia footage “as highly distressing and unacceptable to the industry, livestock producers and the community.”
   “These deaths and the conditions in which they occurred are plainly unacceptable,” said Simon Westaway, the chief executive officer of the council.
   According to the council, 1.74 million live sheep were exported from Australia in 2017, 12,377 of which died in transit, a mortality rate of 0.71 percent.
   “The range of livestock mortalities since 2010 has been between 0.6 to 0.9 percent and is trending down, but our industry is determined to achieve better outcomes,” the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council said, noting that the country also exports more than 1 million live cattle annually.
   Animals are sometimes used to strengthen breeding and herd numbers, but the council notes religious requirements, particularly around festival times, dictate the slaughter of live animals. And in situations in which Australian animals are involved, this is done “under Australian controlled conditions.”
   “Processing live animals locally is often cheaper than buying boxed or chilled meat slaughtered in Australia, which is a high-input cost industry compared to its global competitors,” the council added. 
   In a statement, Graham Daws, the managing director of Emanuel Exports, the company exporting the sheep, called the incident “devastating” and said the company has “taken steps over more than six months to address the issues arising from our own extensive review of the voyage and the government findings.” He said that has included reducing stocking rates in summer up to 15 percent beyond the benchmark for the Australian Standards for Export of Live Animals.
   Daws said the blacklisting of Qatar by other Gulf Cooperation Council “meant the captain of the vessel had no choice other than to call Doha as first port (instead of Kuwait, as planned.) Extreme heat and humidity was encountered in Doha. Such weather events are an anomaly and voyage records show the vast majority of deliveries during the hotter summer months each year are successful.”
   According to a report from Australia’s Financial Review, Emanuel Exports has agreed to “comply with new stringent measures to protect sheep and cattle after the federal Agriculture Department threatened to block a shipment planned for next week. About 65,000 sheep and 250 cattle are due to depart from Fremantle on board the MV Awassi Express on Wednesday, bound for the Middle East for a 20-day voyage.”
   There is a long history of reformers who have worked to improve the conditions for live animals being transported by sea.
   Samuel Plimsoll, the coal merchant who crusaded for improved ship safety and the painting of load lines on vessels in the 19th century, followed that endeavor up by publishing a pamphlet called Cattle Ships, crusading for better treatment of transported cattle.

Chris Dupin

Chris Dupin has written about trade and transportation and other business subjects for a variety of publications before joining American Shipper and Freightwaves.