Livestock finally arrives in Israel after 3 month Houthi-delayed voyage from Australia

Animal rights groups denounced the ordeal on the MV Bahijah, which was rerouted in January to avoid Houthi attacks


The cattle carrier MV Bahijah finally reached Haifa Port in Israel on Saturday after a lengthy journey from Australia. (Photo: Bahnfrend, CC 2018 via WikiMedia Commons)

More than 14,000 sheep and cattle destined for slaughter finally arrived at Haifa Port in Israel on Saturday after three months spent in transit from Australia, having been diverted and delayed due to Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping.

The lengthy ordeal for the animals, marked by long weeks marooned in sweltering heat off the Australian coast and a re-routed voyage around the "treacherous” Cape of Good Hope, sparked outrage among animal rights groups in Australia and Israel.

The Australian Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) called it “one of the most shameful episodes in Australian live export history,”

Ordered by the Israeli meat company Bassem Dabbah Shipping, the MV Bahijah departed from Fremantle Port in Western Australia on 5 January carrying 15,000 sheep and 2,500 cattle. Nine days later, the ship was forced to reroute its journey to avoid the Bab al-Mandab strait, where Houthi rebels launched numerous attacks on commercial ships in “retaliation” for the Gaza war.

On 20 January, the Australian agriculture and fisheries department said the ship had been ordered to return to Australia “due to the worsening security situation” in the Red Sea. However, the livestock were not permitted to be unloaded from the ship back at Fremantle Port due to Australia’s stringent biosecurity regulations, which meant the animals spent several weeks contained on the stationary ship in nearly 40-degree heat.

There was no immediate information on the condition of the animals upon arrival in Israel, but Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer Beth Cookson confirmed in February that dozens died in the first stage of the journey.

Despite local quarantine regulations, on 14 February the livestock were offloaded to various feedlots amid concerns for their fate during the intense heatwave.

Around 13,700 of the sheep and 550 of the cattle were then reloaded onto the vessel and set sail again on 3 March despite an initial Australian decision to cancel the shipment.

The ship then made the journey around the Cape of Good Hope, docking in the Spanish port of Las Palmas on the 28th of March, before heading to Israel.

Rebecca Tapp, spokesperson for the Australian rights group Stop Live Exports, said in a statement on Sunday: “Exporters can’t be trusted to do the right thing. Instead of ending the animals’ suffering after the first failed journey, they chose to re-export them all over again, in the longest approved trip in live export history.

“They dismissed the pleas of the outraged Australian community who rallied for them to prioritise animal welfare over profit. They ignored calls from 12 leading animal welfare organisations to voluntarily suspend further shipments to the Red Sea while the risk of Houthi attacks continue.”

Tapp said that “Every aspect of the live export trade is cruel and inhumane,” and contended that the trade is “unfixable.”

RSPCA Australia Chief Science Officer Dr Suzie Fowler added: “The live export trade has a long and shameful history of extreme animal suffering, yet the MV Bahijah saga brought the horrors of the live sheep export industry into Australia’s backyard.”

“The Department and the industry need to be transparent. They must share with the Australian community the details of the daily voyage reports from the on-board vet, what treatments animals were given, how many animals were identified as unfit for re-export and why, and any veterinary reports and advice that was provided across the entire saga.

“What we’ve seen so far is more of the same – the same lack of information, the same lack of transparency, that we’ve come to expect from these parties over many, many years – proof that little has changed,” said Dr Fowler.

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