Australian ship ordered to turn back from Red Sea, livestock stuck on board

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A ship carrying 16,000 sheep and cows that turned back from the Red Sea due to the risk of attack off Yemen was stranded at an Australian port in a heatwave on Friday as the exporter sought to offload at least some of the animals into quarantine.

Meanwhile, another vessel carrying an even larger cargo — tens of thousands of animals — from Australia sailed for a Red Sea port in Jordan, with a contingency plan to unload them in the Gulf if it fails to obtain permission to enter the waterway.

Passage through the Red Sea has become perilous due to attacks on shipping by Yemen’s Houthi militia that have disrupted global trade.

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The MV Bahijah set out for Israel on Jan. 5 carrying around 14,000 sheep and 2,000 cattle but diverted due to threat of attack and was ordered home by the Australian government. It arrived in Perth in Western Australia on Monday during a summer heatwave.

Biosecurity rules mean the animals cannot disembark without being quarantined. Australia’s agriculture ministry said it is still considering an application by the exporter, Israeli firm Bassem Dabbah, to unload some animals and send the rest back to sea for a voyage of roughly 33 days to reach Israel by going around Africa.

Officials say the livestock are in good health but some politicians and animal rights activists claim their plight amounts to cruel mistreatment and have called for Canberra to bring forward a planned ban on live sheep exports.

Members of the Yemeni Coast Guard affiliated with the Houthi group patrol the sea

Yemeni Coast Guard ships affiliated with the Houthi group patrol the sea on Jan. 4, 2024. International shipping has been disrupted by their presence. (AFP via Getty Images)

“Australia’s biosecurity and the health and welfare of the livestock onboard are our highest priorities,” the agriculture ministry said.

Israeli animal groups Let the Animals Live and Animals Now said they had filed legal proceedings seeking to prevent the animals on board the Bahijah from being imported into Israel.

The Israeli government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, another livestock carrier, the Jawan, set sail from Australia for the Jordanian port of Aqaba on Thursday, according to ship tracking data on Refinitiv Eikon.

On board are around 60,000 animals, most or all of them sheep, said John Hassell, head of farm group WAFarmers.

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The Australian agriculture ministry said it had approved the vessel to sail “with a contingency plan including that it cannot enter the Red Sea unless the department (ministry) gives approval to do so 72 hours before they enter the Red Sea.”

If the vessel cannot enter the Red Sea it will unload in the Gulf and the animals will be trucked overland to Jordan, a source familiar with the matter said.

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Reuters was unable to contact Bassem Dabbah or Jawan Compania Naviera SA, listed by Refinitiv as the owner of the Jawan.

The Bahijah’s manager, Korkyra Shipping, did not respond to requests for comment. The Jawan’s listed manager, MC-Schiffahrt GmbH & Co KG, did not immediately 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.

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