16,000 sheep and cattle still stuck on board export ship after Red Sea turn-back

By Peter Hobson

CANBERRA, Feb 1 (Reuters) - A ship carrying around 14,000 sheep and 2,000 cattle docked in Australia on Thursday after abandoning a journey through the Red Sea, but the livestock remained stuck on board as the government decides whether to let them disembark or send them back to sea.

The animals have been on the vessel since Jan. 5. Government and industry officials say they are in good health but animal welfare advocates have branded their plight torture.

The situation underlines the widening impact of strikes by Yemen's Houthi militia on shipping in the Red Sea that have disrupted global trade.

The ship, MV Bahijah, diverted from its route from Australia to Israel due to the threat of attack and was ordered home by the Australian government.

It has sat off the city of Perth since Monday in sweltering summer heat.

The Australian agriculture ministry said on Thursday the ship had docked but that it was still considering an application by the exporter, Israeli firm Bassem Dabbah Ltd, to unload some animals and ship the rest around Africa to Israel, a journey that would take around 33 days.

The vessel is "being replenished with supplies to ensure the ongoing health and welfare of the livestock is upheld. No animals are currently being unloaded," the ministry said.

Any animals unloaded would have to quarantine due to Australia's strict biosecurity rules.

The ministry said it had sent two vets aboard the vessel who reported no sign of significant animal welfare concerns, but critics are not placated.

"Leaving sheep and cattle on the MV Bahijah in the scorching summer heat is animal torture," said Senator Mehreen Faruqi, deputy leader of the Greens party.

"The government already made one gross error by approving this trip through a conflict zone," she said. "Sending them back out on another long journey is absolutely unacceptable."

Reuters was unable to contact Bassem Dabbah. The ship's manager, Korkyra Shipping, did not respond to a request for comment.

Australia's live export industry shipped more than half a million sheep and half a million cattle overseas last year.

(Reporting by Peter Hobson; Editing by Stephen Coates)

((peter.hobson@thomsonreuters.com;))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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