16,000 stranded animals awaiting quarantine decision

Things have gone from bad to worse for livestock onboard the carrier Bahijah which now sits off the coast of Australia almost a month after its departure.

The 2010-built, 7,900-dwt livestock carrier, formerly known as the Ocean Outback – registered to Israeli-based Bassem Dabbah Shipping and operated by Korkyra Shipping – left Freemantle on January 5 and on January 16 diverted from its route due to concerns regarding safety concerns from Houthi Rebels attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

The Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) then ordered the vessel to immediately return to Australia citing biosecurity risks and the welfare of the livestock as the main reasons for the decision.

Now, the ship with around 14,000 sheep and 2,500 cattle, which have been aboard the livestock carrier since January 5, is located just off the coast of Western Australia.

The vessel is now facing biosecurity issues as the livestock on board cannot be reintroduced to an Australian herd despite not having docked at any other port. There are no reports regarding the current health of the animals apart from Western Australia Premier Roger Cook stating that it was his understanding that the livestock was “in good health at the moment.” He further stated that, if the animals are to come on shore, they will be put in quarantine for a while due to biosecurity reasons.

The industry’s preferred plan is for the animals to be kept on the ship before being re-exported to the same market, taking the longer route around Africa. President of the WAFarmers livestock section Geoff Pearson told local media that the animals should be re-exported to the same market via the longer 33-day route around Africa because quarantining them would be “a whole logistical nightmare.” Pearson added that because the cattle had been in foreign waters aboard a ship that had carted foreign cattle, they effectively had to be treated as foreign livestock.

Australia’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Greens party have raised concerns regarding the wellbeing of the animals. The now stationary vessel now has very little ventilation and the animals have been in their own waste for nearly a month. Also, a heatwave is arriving in Australia with 40 degrees Celsius expected on Wednesday which could further endanger the livestock.

But the situation is not unprecedented as Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive Mark Harvey-Sutton told Australian media outlets. According to him, ships have turned back to Australia due to mechanical issues in the past, but the Bahijah voyage remains one of the longest voyages on record. Regarding the biosecurity risks, he said that they were “very much manageable” because the vessel hasn’t docked in any other port or picked up fodder from any other country.