At least 10,000 Australian sheep shuttled from pillar to post around the Middle East before being sent to an ESCAS facility in Pakistan have been brutally slaughtered. Pakistani newspapers report animals being stabbed and clubbed to death with some buried alive. The Karachi-based PK Meat and Food Company were apparently powerless to stop the seizure and brutal killing at the hands of the Pakistani authorities although a court order has temporarily halted the killing. These sheep appear to have been little more than political pawns at all stages of this saga.
The government's Memoranda of Understanding and ESCAS have proved worthless in protecting these sheep. The whole disaster reflects the fact that there is nothing Australia can do to provide adequate protection for Australian animals once they board an export ship.
The latest episode comes only 14 months after the Four Corners Report on Indonesia, 8 months since Animals Australia revealed the failure of the ESCAS to protect Australian animals in Indonesia and in the same month as revelations of further failure of the ESCAS in Kuwait.
How many more examples of extreme animal cruelty need to occur before we put a halt to the live export trade?
After Animals Australia exposed yet another problem with ESCAS, filming Australian sheep being brutally slaughtered in Kuwait's Al Rai marketplace rather than an accredited facility, Phillip Glyde, from DAFF, had this to say "Having these independent reports from third parties such as Animal Australia is one of the ways in which we make sure that the system is actually working"........or not!
No doubt the government welcomes a free "charitable" audit given that they are providing $5.0 million taxpayer dollars over two years to the Approved Supply Chain Improvements Program.
The story of the rejected shipment of Australian sheep on the Ocean Drover continues to unfold. Pakistan has been confirmed as the destination for the Australian sheep. It would also appear that DAFF are trying to distract from the failed Memoranda of Understanding by saying that ‘diverting’ to Karachi has always been part of the risk assessment protocol produced by the exporter as a condition of the export permit, a most unlikely possibility.
This incident underlines the fundamentally flawed regulatory framework that the Government has constructed for live export. As Wellard (the exporter) has been at pains to emphasise, as soon as the sheep are on the ship they belong to the importer. It is naïve to suggest that Australian legislation could or would be applied to an importer in a foreign country. Equally how could an Australian court hold an exporter responsible for cruelty to animals which belong to sometime else in a foreign country? The ESCAS system has been sold to the Australian public as some sort of guarantee of animal welfare standards. It is not. It is yet another cynical exercise in deception.
Yesterday, VALE reported on the saga of sheep from two Australian ships being rejected in the Middle East despite the fact that Australia has Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with governments in the Middle East to ensure that this couldn't happen again. One of those ships, the Al Shuwaikh is apparently unloading in Kuwait.
VALE has heard unconfirmed reports that the other ship, the Ocean Drover, has been rerouted with its cargo of rejected sheep to Pakistan. If Pakistan is the new destination, there is the immediate question of whether the exporter has received written confirmation from DAFF that it has accepted a change to all the other necessary documentation, including the export permit. We know from the voyage of the Hereford Express in November 2008 that such changes are often approved by DAFF on a "nod and a wink" basis - and we would say this is illegal. It will be interesting to see all the relevant documents relating to this voyage in due course.
Of course VALE’s main concern, if Pakistan is the new destination of the rejected sheep, is the standard of animal welfare likely to prevail at this destination. Wellard, the exporter has released a statement saying that sheep were being discharged into an ESCAS compliant supply chain which meets OIE standards, “ensuring Australian and international animal welfare standards are adhered to”. It seems almost impossible to believe that the assurance protocols designed to ensure animal welfare during unloading, transport and slaughter have been put in place and approved in such a short space of time. This is particularly so given the large number of sheep involved and that the DAFF website indicates that Pakistan has never before imported Australian sheep. These animals have been on board ship for 33 days travelling from the southern winter to the extreme heat and humidity of the northern summer, shuttled from port to port. Whilst Wellard have stated that the mortality limit has not been exceeded it must be remembered that only 22000 sheep have been left on the ship. Deaths in this group of sheep may not have overly influenced the overall mortality which will be a calculated percentage of the initial 70000 or so sheep. What is clear to VALE is that the much trumpeted MoU with Bahrain, which was supposed to allow unloading of sheep regardless of their health status, has been completely ineffective.