Inspection of stock boats questioned

The Western Australia livestock export industry has questioned the validity of claims that local officials had the right to inspect livestock ships, reports West Australian.

Last week the WA State Government attempted to inspect a live export vessel in Fremantle harbour amid concerns that companies were using old and unfit ships for voyages to the Middle East.

Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said afterwards that the Government was determined to inspect ships before and after loading animals if they were deemed not to comply with Federal standards.

Speaking at the Australian Livestock Export Conference in Perth, MacTiernan said that it was time to abolish “grandfathering provisions”, which had existed for the past decade, when modern shipping standards were introduced to ensure vessels met basic ventilation, movement, drainage and fodder requirements to guarantee animal welfare. “While I acknowledge the provisions may have been an OK call then, their continued existence simply lacks any credibility now, ” she said.

Last month MacTiernan welcomed the decision by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to ban temporarily from live exports the vessel Al Messilah after she failed an inspection. That related to an incident where up to 3,000 sheep died from heat stress aboard the boat during a trip from Fremantle to the Persian Gulf.

The determination to inspect ships and prosecute livestock exporters considered likely to cause harm to animals could see the State clash with the federal government.

In 2003, Emanuel Exports faced charges of breaching the State Animal Welfare Act when 1,340 sheep died on MV Al Kuwait, which carried more than 100,000 sheep from Fremantle to the Middle East But the prosecution failed because it fell foul of Section 109 of Commonwealth of Australia Constitution. However, these rules have never been presented to the Canberra parliament. It is therefore argued by some that Western Australia’s State Welfare Act should prevail. This can only be tested if the State decides to prosecute another exporter.

WA Livestock Exporters’ Association chairman David Jarvie said the responsibility for the inspection of livestock vessels was not the jurisdiction of the State Government. Jarvie also said it was wrong to assume old ships were below standards. “Just because a vessel is old, doesn’t mean it is not functional,” he said. “If a ship does not carry an exemption not to meet a particular standard, we must, therefore, assume that it is worthy to be used for livestock.”