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The RSPCA has condemned the Australian Government’s decision to allow troubled live sheep export ship MV Maysora to load 30,000 sheep and sail into uncertain conditions in the Middle Eastern summer.

The decision comes as the RSPCA reveals it is awaiting the results of a Freedom of Information request to access images and footage captured on board live sheep export ships, since the government began placing departmental observers on board in April.

“Despite government and exporter assurances of improved conditions, we’ve seen no information, photos or footage from those observers, and that’s very worrying,” said RSPCA Australia Senior Policy Officer Dr Jed Goodfellow.

“The decision to allow the Maysora to sail throws caution to the wind as the Government is still awaiting the outcomes from three critical reviews into the adequacy of the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock, the Heat Stress Risk Assessment model, and the Department of Agriculture’s ability to regulate the trade.

“Approving further shipments into the Middle Eastern summer before receiving this critical advice is simply reckless, and shows that the Government is yet again willing to place exporter profits before animal welfare.

“Let’s not forget, in May this year the Australian Veterinary Association gave the Government very clear advice that exports to the Middle East should not occur between May to October because sheep will remain susceptible to heat stress and die due to the extreme climatic conditions.

“This advice was consistent with the outcomes of the recommendations made by Dr Michael McCarthy, but instead of acting on these recommendations, the Government has opted for ‘further testing and consultation’ all while continuing to approve further export permits.    

“It is also important to note that the export company involved, Livestock Shipping Service,  bowed out of the trade for the past few months because they couldn’t meet new animal welfare standards while still making enough of a profit,

“And we also understand they unsuccessfully applied for an exemption to those new regulations for this shipment, so they could cram sheep in at similar stocking densities, just like they used to,

“Once again, we have compelling proof of an industry that is grossly out of touch, an industry that is both unwilling and unable to change, and which is determined to return to business as usual in spite of the community’s overwhelming opposition,

“We speak on behalf of millions of caring Australians when we say the winding-down of this cruel industry cannot come soon enough,” said Dr Goodfellow.

Maysora history of disaster

Dr Goodfellow also said the Maysora has a particularly troubled animal welfare history.

“The fastest and strongest reaction we’ve seen from our supporters in the past six months was when the Maysora was allowed to leave under cover of darkness with no tangible improvements to on-board conditions, just a few days after the horrific Awassi Express footage was aired on Sixty Minutes,

“At that time, The Sunday Times reported that before the ship had even left port, government officials found ‘... sheep couldn’t lie down without being trampled and could not access food and water. Some water troughs were empty, and many were heavily contaminated with faeces. Sheep had got out of their pens and were in raceways and stair wells, with at least two dead sheep observed’,

The ageing and dilapidated Maysora has a long history of repeated disasters at sea, and is one of the high-risk twin-tier ships set to be outlawed shortly by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

“What we do know is these sheep will face conditions and grave risks similar to those we saw on the Awassi Express,” said Dr Goodfellow.

“Even under the modest reductions in stocking density, sheep won’t all be able to lie down at once, many will struggle to access water and food, they’ll suffer under intense heat and distress, and more than 300 will need to die under these conditions before we even trigger an investigation,

“As long as live sheep exports continue, it’s a disaster waiting to happen – and this shipment is the first step towards that next disaster,” said Dr Goodfellow.

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