Australia nixes plan to send livestock on monthlong journey around Africa to Israel

Vessel carrying thousands of sheep and cattle recalled by Canberra due to concern for animals’ health after trip is extended due to Houthi threat

Illustrative: Cows imported from Australia stand in a pen at a government's slaughterhouse near Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, Tuesday, August 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Binsar Sakkara)
Illustrative: Cows imported from Australia stand in a pen at a government's slaughterhouse near Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, Tuesday, August 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Binsar Sakkara)

CANBERRA, Australia — The Australian government said on Monday it had refused a request by a livestock exporter to send a ship carrying around 14,000 sheep and 1,500 cattle on a monthlong voyage around Africa to Israel.

The animals have been on board the vessel for a month, prompting outcry from animal rights advocates who have likened their treatment to torture.

The MV Bahijah sailed from Australia for Israel on January 5 but abandoned a passage through the Red Sea due to the threat of attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have been attacking vessels transiting in the Red Sea in response to Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza, and was ordered home by the Australian government.

The ship has been waiting off Western Australia for a week for the government to decide if it can head back to sea.

Several hundred cattle were offloaded in recent days but Australia’s biosecurity rules mean any animals that disembark must be quarantined.

The agriculture ministry said it was not satisfied that the exporter’s application met Australian or Israeli regulatory requirements or that the animals’ health and welfare would be ensured.

It did not give further details on the decision but said the animals were still in good health.

“The next steps for the livestock onboard the vessel are commercial decisions for the exporter to make,” it said. “The [ministry] stands ready to assess any future application.”

In this undated handout photo from Animals Australia recieved by AFP on March 9, 2018 shows distressed sheep shot onboard Panama-flagged livestock carrier Awassi Express, from Australia to the Middle East, captured over five voyages. (Animals Australia/AFP)

Australia is a major exporter of live animals, shipping more than half a million sheep and half a million cattle last year. The government plans to ban live sheep exports in the coming years.

Another livestock vessel carrying around 60,000 animals left Australia last week for the Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba.

Reuters was unable to contact Bassem Dabbah, the exporter of the animals on the Bahijah. The ship’s manager, Korkyra Shipping, did not respond to requests for comment.

Global trade has been heavily impacted by repeated attacks launched by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen which has said it is targeting vessels as a show of solidarity with Palestinians amid Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

While Israeli-linked vessels are among those that have been targeted, container ships and oil tankers flagged to countries like Norway and Liberia have been attacked or drawn missile fire while traversing the waterway between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

In this photo released by the US military’s Central Command on February 3, 2024, missiles are fired from a warship in the Red Sea against Houthi targets in Yemen. (US Central Command/AFP)

In peacetime, about 12% of the world’s trade passes through the Red Sea but the attacks have forced international shipping companies to route trade between Europe and Asia around Africa, adding time and costs.

The US and UK have carried out three waves of joint strikes against Houthi targets and infrastructure in Yemen since January, the most recent of which was carried out late Saturday.

The US has also carried out a series of air raids against the Yemeni rebels on its own, but the attacks on the vital Red Sea trade route have persisted.

The Iran-backed group has also launched drone and missile attacks at Israel since the start of its war with Hamas after the October 7 terror onslaught, but most have failed to reach their targets and many have been intercepted.

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