The Guardian 9 February, 2005

Live export trade: "excessive mortalities" and cover-ups

Suzanne Cass

In most media quarters there is very selective reporting of the live export trade. The industry and the government are trying to tell the public that they have lifted their game, following reports from the Independent Reference Groups of 2000 and 2002 and the Keniry review of 2003. These reports all came to the same basic conclusions, which the government fundamentally ignored. In addition to those enquiries, in 2002, for example, there were no less than seven major enquiries into "excessive mortalities" on live export ships by the relevant government authorities AMSA, AQIS and AFFA*.

One recommendation in particular was that the trade should be more accountable to the public. It is extraordinarily difficult in fact, as a result of the government's "commercial in confidence" provisions, now impossible for the public to access any other reports about "mortality incidents" which may exist but are hidden from public scrutiny.

And to further facilitate this secrecy, the trade, with its shipping partners, has sought to cover up any potential future disasters by simply re-naming the worst of the ships.

This means that ship detention records will not accurately reflect the histories of the tramp ships used to transport live animals. While it is customary in some cases to change the names of ships when they change hands, neither the Cormo Express nor the Corriedale Express, re-birthed as the Merino Express and the Kenoz respectively have changed hands but have been re-named anyway.

Sordid histories

The following are a few examples of ships recently loading live cargoes in Australia:

1. The Danny F II noted for a detention in Port Adelaide for the following defects:

"Bulkhead between fuel oil tank and water ballast tank holed, bulkhead between stern tank and steering gear space corroded and holed, navigation lights and shapes unserviceable, VHF radio equipment defective, weathertight door and deck air pipe closing arrangement defective". (Fairplay Register of Shipping)

2. The Al Messilah, built in 1980, and noted for detention in Portland in February 2002, with deficiencies in certifications of Master and officers. It was also the subject of AQIS and AMSA enquiries into "excessive mortalities" in 2002, when 2173 sheep died. An entry in Hansard revealed that it is a vessel of choice for "deserters" of the human variety, along with the Danny F II.

3. The Al Shuwaikh, built in 1985. This ship was detained in Australia in July 2001, with its engine room ventilation fire damper inoperative. In 2002, it was the subject of major AMSA/AQIS enquiries into "excessive mortalities" on two successive voyages. On Voyage 20, 5800 sheep died and on Voyage 21, 2304 sheep died.

4. The Farid F, built in 1972, and with the following track record: the ship has a total of FIVE detentions in Australia. It was last detained in Portland in March 2004 with the following defects: "Summary: beams, frames, floors corrosion, fire pumps, cleanliness of engine room, ballast, fuel and other tanks, bulkheads corrosion, means of escape, lifeboats, embarkation arrangements survival craft, ventilators, air pipes, casings, magnetic compass, other (navigation), other (stability/structure), speed and distance indicator, maintenance of the ship and equipment, resources and personnel, certificates for master and officers ..." (Fairplay Register of Shipping, AMSA)

An even longer list of failings was reported when the ship was detained in Portland in February. It has previously been detained three times in Australia, once in Darwin and twice in Fremantle, in 1998, 2001 and 2002 with similarly critical defects. (Fairplay Register of Shipping)

AMSA claims to have inspected the Farid F six times since its last detention.

*Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture

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