Days of severe heat stress, death by smothering: delayed live sheep export report reveals horrific suffering

The summary of a Department of Agriculture observer report from a May 2018 live export voyage – released this week after an almost 12 month delay - reveals further damning evidence of on-board conditions.

The observer’s summary of conditions on-board the Al Shuwaikh as it travelled from Fremantle to Kuwait reveals the following:

  • For a period of eight days sheep were “open mouth breathing” (indicating severe heat stress) as they “attempted to gain position around the ventilation vents on all open and closed decks”
  • Multiple instances of “death by smothering” as a result of this
  • Heat stress worsened by “oil fuel heaters being left on during the equator crossing” and poor ship design with “dark coloured steel roof surface absorbing radiated heat from above.”
  • Water troughs were fouled with manure during the end of the voyage.
  • Significant welfare concerns during discharge, with animals left without feed for an extended period and of sheep vocalising loudly.
  • Mouldy food was observed in the bottom of troughs for both sheep and cattle on numerous occasions.

RSPCA Australia Senior Policy Officer Dr Jed Goodfellow described the report as distressing, but sadly, not at all surprising.

“The scenes detailed in this report are truly horrific,” Dr Goodfellow said.

“Sheep being smothered to death as they fight desperately for position around ventilation vents to escape the stifling heat and humidity.

“It describes such a frantic situation, and perhaps what is most distressing, is the length of time the animals had to endure this suffering.

“It wasn’t a few hours, it was eight long days that they were subjected to these unbearable conditions.

Dr Goodfellow said the report was further evidence of the inherent suffering of live sheep export, and questioned why the Department took almost a year to release the report.
“This report is also a major indictment on the Department’s ongoing regulation of the trade.

“Given this knowledge, it is beyond belief the Department could still be willing to give the green light to sheep exports to the Middle East in May this year.

“When introducing new regulations in March, the Department stated that ‘the risk of adverse welfare outcomes during May remains very low’.

“That couldn’t be further from the truth.

“This report was in the Department’s possession in June 2018 – to withhold its release until after the regulations for this northern summer period were made is very concerning indeed.

“It shows, yet again, that the Department of Agriculture cannot be trusted to effectively regulate live exports and that a truly independent regulator is urgently required.

“It also demonstrates yet again, that animals cannot be protected from suffering in live exports, and this cruel and unnecessary practice must end.
“Australia should not be part of this suffering.

The Al Messilah departed Fremantle for the Middle East with approximately 56,000 sheep this week and further live export vessels (including the ship featured in this report, the Al Shuwaikh) are expected in Fremantle later in the month.