Old ships, ancient customs
FREMANTLE, Australia––Seventy thousand Australian sheep aboard the 38-year-old livestock carrier Al Messilah, or anyhow those who survive the journey, are due to reach Kuwait on May 14, 2018, according to VesselFinder.com.
The voyage continues a trade that Animals Australia likens to whaling in terms of cruelty and obsolescence, but which inflicts prolonged suffering on thousands of times more animals.
The 28-year-old Awassi Express, which was to have hauled the sheep, is instead expected to arrive in Broome, Australia on May 5, 2018, “to pick up live cattle for the southeast Asian market, after costly delays and some industry confusion,” reported Victoria Laurie of The Australian, from Perth.
“The Awassi Express had been held in Fremantle for two weeks,” Laurie explained, “while the Australian Maritime Safety Authority forced it to improve poor ventilation on its closed livestock decks after 2,400 sheep died of heat stress and dehydration en route to the Middle East last August,” specifically to Qatar, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates.
“Shocking footage of the dead and dying sheep,” obtained by Animals Australia, “was aired on national TV this month,” Laurie continued, “prompting federal agriculture minister David Littleproud to launch an inquiry into his department’s reporting systems.”
Before Animals Australia released the video, apparently taken by an appalled crew member as sick sheep struggled to keep their heads above deep manure, the mass deaths had gone unreported for seven months.
Both the sheep en route to Kuwait and the cattle, whose “southeast Asian market” destinations are believed to be mostly in Indonesia, are to be sold for slaughter at the end of Ramadan, the month spanning the second half of May and first half of June this year, during which observant Muslims do not eat during daylight hours.
Ramadan concludes with a feast, before which sheep, goats, or cattle are slaughtered, traditionally by heads of households, and meat is offered to the poor.
While monetary gifts to charity are considered acceptable by most Islamic religious authorities in lieu of slaughtering animals and distributing meat, the traditional practice persists in much of the Islamic world.
Major export destinations
As the Ramadan demand for sheep, goats, and cattle to be slaughtered exceeds local production in the Middle East and majority Islamic nations of Asia, those regions have come to be major export destinations for the Australian livestock industry––especially for sheep farmers.
In 2015-2016, the most recent fiscal year for which the Australian government has published data, 1.7 million sheep were shipped alive to 12 nations, including 629,000 (37%) to Kuwait; 442,000 (26%) to Qatar; 153,000 (9%) to Jordan; 136,000 (8%) to United Arab Emirates; and 119,000 (7%) to Bahrain.
Israel received 850,000 live sheep from Australia, 5% of the total live exports. Six other nations received a combined total of 136,000 live sheep.
Watering system automated after 30 years
The Al Messilah and the Awassi Express are both “owned by the Kuwaiti Livestock and Trading Company, but will be supplied sheep by Perth-based Emanuel Exports, Australia’s largest live sheep exporter,” Laurie added.
Like the Awassi Express, Laurie said, the Al Messilah was “delayed by equipment repairs mandated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.”
Elaborated Natalie Kotsios of The Weekly Times, “The Awassi Express was docked at Fremantle for a fortnight, after the Australian Maritime Safety Authority refused to its live export permit until the vessel met minimum airflow requirements for all pens. An Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokesperson said the Awassi’s operators had improved its ventilation system, and installed an automatic watering system to ensure water was provided to all pens without manual labor.”
Ordered to carry fewer sheep
The Awassi Express was switched from hauling sheep to hauling cattle after the Australian Maritime Safety Authority ordered that it carry 17.5% fewer sheep per voyage, and stop at Kuwait before stopping at other ports, to unload the largest number of sheep first, “to allow more space for the sheep as they headed to higher humidity ports,” Kotsios wrote.
Asked Animals Australia, after the Australian edition of the investigative news television program 60 Minutes aired the video of the August 2017 sheep deaths, “Why does Emanuel Exports still have an export license?”
Holes in the decks
Just a year ago, Animals Australia reminded, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority found issues with the Al Messilah including “holes corroded in the decks and bulkheads throughout the ship; improperly mounted electrical cables, exposed wires and unsealed electrical junction boxes; an unserviceable generator; and poor quality repairs throughout the livestock decks.
“The Al Messilah, like the Awassi Express, had received government attention before,” Animals Australia added. “A July 2016 voyage for Emanuel Exports resulted in 3,027 sheep (4.36 percent) dying on the vessel as the Al Messilah sailed from Fremantle to the Middle East. In 2006, a voyage from Tasmania saw 1,683 of 71,309 sheep die on board.”
Losses of five times the norm
Australian government records, Animals Australia said, show that “the directors of Emanuel Exports and associated companies have been involved in over 30 voyages since 2005 on which more than 1,000 animals perished on each shipment.”
The Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council claims the live export industry as a whole has a death-in-transit rate of 0.71%, but the death rate on the August 2017 Awassi Express voyage was more than five times as high.
Whaling ended Down Under 40 years ago
Australia, once a major participant in commercial whaling, left the whaling industry at the beginning of 1979, a year before Animals Australia was formed by authors Peter Singer and Christine Townend as the Australian Federation of Animal Societies. Both Singer and Townend long ago left active roles with the organization, which has now been headed by Glenys Oogjes for more than 30 years, with former South Australian police officer Lyn White as director of strategy since 2003, leading the campaign against live export.
An Australian whaler last killed a whale on November 20, 1978, “after two centuries of slaughter and the deaths of tens of thousands of animals,” the Animals Australia web site recalls.
Similar arguments were made in defense of whaling “that we now hear in support of live export,” Animals Australia recounts. “Jobs depended on it; whaling underpinned regional economies; and what would local communities do instead?
“When whaling ended, that was it”
“Economic pressures meant that in some ways, the whaling industry was likely sailing towards the end regardless of public opinion,” Animals Australia acknowledges.
“But even still, the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company at Albany, Western Australia, had killed about 1,000 whales each year in its three and a half decade history — and was only a few whales short of its annual quota when its boats returned to port for the last time.
“When whaling ended, that was it,” the Animals Australia web site concludes. “There was no direct alternative for those involved in the industry. In contrast, we have a viable alternative to live export — boxed meat — and it is already worth eight times as much to our country’s economy. The vast majority of jobs currently supported by live export — producers, stockmen, shearers, truck drivers — will still exist if all animals are processed domestically.”
Also posting a web site entitled “10 ways veggie burgers can help fix the world,” Animals Australia favors a transition to a vegan world, but sees no contradiction between seeking animal welfare reforms that will reduce suffering, such as abolishing live shipments of sheep and cattle, at the same time as promoting veganism to those who are willing to make personal commitments to ending animal exploitation altogether.