Good Riddance To Shameful Chapter In SA’s Past

SA celebrates six years since last live sheep ship left Port Adelaide

As a parliamentary committee considers a bill to phase out live sheep export, RSPCA South Australia and the many South Australians who have lobbied against this cruel trade are today celebrating that it has been six years since the last sheep were shipped live from our state.

The Al Shuwaikh ship departed Port Adelaide on 11 May 2018 (temp approximately 16C) and arrived at its first Middle East destination – Kuwait – on 2 June 2018, where the temperature was hovering in the mid-40s. The Independent Observer report from this 30-day voyage[1] showed that over 600 sheep died before the ship docked in Kuwait.

The report chronicled the suffering endured by the 69,117 Australian sheep onboard the infamous Emanuel Exports vessel. Among the many welfare issues noted, the report stated that for eight days sheep were open-mouth panting, an indication of severe heat stress, as they “attempted to gain position around the ventilation vents on open and closed decks”. Multiple instances of “death by smothering” occurred as a result of this.

“Since that last chapter of South Australia’s involvement in this shameful trade, the state’s sheep industry has successfully transitioned away from the trade and continues to flourish,” RSPCA Australia Chief Science Officer Dr Suzie Fowler said.

“No amount of regulation can protect sheep from the cumulative stress, searing heat, stifling humidity, overcrowding and unhygienic conditions onboard these ships.

“The science shows that the welfare issues are inherent and unfixable, not just onboard but also after disembarkation in countries where sheep are usually slaughtered without pre-stunning – a practice that conflicts with animal welfare standards in Australia.”

RSPCA Australia recently conducted an analysis of all Independent Observers’ reports published from 53 live sheep export journeys carrying 2.5m Australian sheep between 2018 and 2023 that found:

  • Shy-feeding and starvation were reported on 80% of the reports
  • Sheep were reported suffered heat stress on 60% of the journeys, with 30% of reports including descriptions of severe heat stress with sheep open-mouth panting
  • 6,551 sheep died onboard (the reports do not record the number of sheep that die as a result of stress, injury or illness before boarding or after disembarkation)

Other hallmarks of the trade that were also noted in the reports included:

  • Poor ventilation, with sheep housed in unapproved areas and hot spots near engine rooms
  • Ammonia build-up in pens, with sheep standing for weeks in their own accumulating faeces
  • The loading of sheep unfit for transport
  • Poor management of sick and injured sheep onboard
  • Poor loading of sheep
  • Sheep unable to reach food and water

The Federal Government’s planned phaseout of live sheep exports by 1 May 2028 includes a $107m transition package to help producers and others in the supply chain transition out of the trade. Western Australia is now the only state exporting live sheep. Independent polling conducted in WA in May last year showed that 71% of West Australians supported the phase-out, including 69% in regional WA.

In Canberra on Wednesday, RSPCA Australia told the parliamentary inquiry into the Export Control Amendment (Ending Live Sheep Exports by Sea) Bill 2024, that the organisation supports the Bill, and stated RSPCA’s support for the transition package for WA producers.

To address ongoing welfare concerns until the trade ends, RSPCA Australia’s written submission to the inquiry details several mechanisms for tightening the trade’s regulatory oversight through the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) and for mandating the appointment of Independent Observers on all live sheep voyages from Australia during the phase out period.

Animal welfare is at the heart of the planned phase out policy and RSPCA will today again represent the most significant stakeholders – Australian sheep – when the inquiry hears evidence in WA.


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