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Today, it is one month since the MV Bahijah set off on its ill-fated journey from Fremantle to the Middle East, and one full week since it limped back into the harbour.

Unbelievably, thousands of Australian sheep and cattle have now remained confined on that boat for 32 days straight.

We know via Australia's Chief Veterinary Officer that a number of animals have now died.

Several hundred cattle were unexpectedly offloaded in the dead of night prior to the weekend, and we're now hearing yet-to-be-confirmed reports that a number of those cattle have also died.

The fate and condition of those offloaded animals, as well as that of the thousands left on board, remains unclear.

We’re deeply concerned the Department of Agriculture has not yet denied the exporter’s ill-conceived re-export application. We understand there are many conditions that need to be considered before this definitive decision can be made.

Any issues with stocking density, risk of heat stress, the growing length of the sheep’s wool, poor body condition or injuries, lack of hygiene, any sign of illness or infection, and any further risk of delay due to climate conditions, marine traffic congestion or other– these are all among the regulatory reasons to deny an export application.

Late last week, the MV Jawan – which was berthed alongside the Bahijah last week – departed on 1 February, apparently taking the same, high risk and previously failed Red Sea route to Jordan that caused the Bahijah to double back to Australia. The decision to send another ship of live animal cargo in the midst of the current crisis beggars belief and shows an alarming indifference to the safety and welfare of the crew and animals onboard. The MV Jawan is known in Australia for this previous near catastrophe.

Once again, this situation highlights that it is impossible to regulate this inherently risky industry. Live sheep export cannot be fixed, and it can never be effectively regulated.

The RSPCA believes all animals should be safely offloaded as soon as possible. The exporter Bassem Dabbah can act now to protect these animals from any further suffering by getting them off the vessel, urgently. The only ethical solution right now is for the exporter Bassem Dabbah to agree the animals should be offloaded, and make immediate arrangements with local stakeholders and the Department.

The clock is ticking. Every hour and day that passes increases the likelihood that more and more animals will succumb to stress, fatigue, heat, disease and infections. Any animals that are seemingly well now, are not likely to stay that way for long.

Whatever their condition now, we cannot see – with all the scientific knowledge available – that the Department could possibly find these animals are fit to face another 30+ day journey. The animal welfare science clearly demonstrates these animals will continue to suffer every extra day they are forced to remain on this vessel.

Neither the Bahijah nor the Jawan should ever have been allowed to leave Australia. The Bahijah certainly should not leave again now with any Australians animals on board.

Further information about the RSPCA’s position on live animal export can be found here and on the RSPCA Knowledgebase.

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