'Grave concerns' for 16,000 sheep and cattle stuck on ship over Houthi Red Sea attack fears

Sheep stuck on board the MV Bahijah ship off the coasts of Western Australia. Credit: Western Australian Farmers Federation via CNN

Animal rights groups are "gravely concerned" for thousands of sheep and cattle stranded in an Israeli-owned ship off the coast of Australia, due to fears over the Houthi Red Sea attacks.

More than 16,000 animals are stuck aboard the MV Bahijah in waters off Western Australia, and have been on the ship since January 5.

The live exports were meant to be transported to the Middle East, but 15 days into their journey, Australian authorities ordered the ship to turn around.

Its order came due to fears the ship could be attacked by Houthis in the Red Sea - as the group has been targeting Israeli and Western ally vessels.

But with sweltering temperatures of up to 40 degrees, the animals getting increasingly larger and campaigners warning "it's only a matter of time" before disease spreads through the herd, there are fears for the animal's welfare.

Suzanne Fowler, Chief Science Officer if the RSPCA said it's a matter of urgency that all animals are taken off the boat.

Dr Fowler said: “The welfare of the animals is only going to get worse and worse over the coming days due to the amount of time they’ve spent on the ship. So, it’s very urgent and we couldn’t be more gravely concerned.

“The stress of the animals is only going to yield in the coming days and that sense of fatigue where they can’t cope anymore, will only worsen.

"A lot of these diseases you won’t see until it’s too late.”

Cows stuck on the ship off the coast of Australia. Credit: Western Australian Farmers Federation via CNN

Earlier this week, the Australian government said it was working with the exporter on a plan, but by Thursday it was still considering a request from the exporter to allow the ship to leave.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said the vessel came into Fremantle Port, near Perth, the statement said.

No livestock were offloaded and two independent vets inspected the animals on Wednesday and found “no significant animal health or welfare issues,” the government said.

John Hassell, president of the Western Australian Farmers Federation (WAFarmers), which represents the state’s agricultural industry, said a decision should have been made days ago.

He told CNN: “If the animals are in good nick, if there’s no disease if there’s plenty of space, we’ll (resupply the ship) and turn it away... it should have been gone by now.”

Mr Hassell said he’d been sent photos from the ship that show the animals in good condition, contrary to concerns that conditions are deteriorating.

“I’m comfortable that the sheep are in the shade sitting down, chewing their cud in the warm parts of the day and eating when it’s cooler, like they do on the farm,” Mr Hassell said.

Australia's live export industry has long been a point of contention with animal rights activists in the country.

The government has pledged to end the live export of sheep but has not confirmed when.

In Australia, sheep, cattle and buffalo are exported by sea for meat or breeding, with some animals being on the vessels for up to five weeks, if not longer when things go wrong.

Typically, voyages to South East Asia are five to seven days, its two to three weeks for the Middle East, and a month to Russia and China, according to campaigners Stop Live Exports.

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