At least 840 sheep have died on a ship carrying them from Australia to Israel, as serious mechanical failures caused travel delays near the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean.
The animals were among about 42,000 sheep and 6,000 calves that will soon arrive in the Eilat, with 20,000 of the animals destined for Israel and the Palestinian Authority and the rest for Jordan, according to the group Anonymous for Animal Rights. Due to engine failure about two weeks ago, the ship broke down near the Cocos Islands last week and then was delayed near the coast of Djibouti, before it began moving slowly again toward Israel.
The failures aboard this ship, the Ocean Drover owned by Wellard, constitute the third such incident to occur on animal shipment vessels from Australia to Israel in the past few months, Anonymous for Animal Rights said.
As a result of the situation, Wellard reported to the Australian Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Department that the on-board sheep mortality rate was “exceeding the reportable threshold,” which will result in an automatic governmental investigation, the company said. The Australian Agriculture Department maintains that the “reportable mortality trigger for sheep is 2 percent,” meaning that in this case, at least 2% of the 42,000 sheep – or 840 animals – have died.
After the vessel stopped for repairs, it still needed to travel at 70% of its normal speed, and a change in feed prompted by the extended voyage has been the main trigger for mortality, a statement from Wellard explained.
“This result is extremely disappointing and unacceptable to our company,” said Wellard managing director Mauro Balzarini, in the statement.
Balzarini stressed that the Ocean Drover has consistently performed well, with a voyage success rate for the past 12 years of 99.32% for sheep and 99.82% for cattle.
“We strive for 100% success, so to exceed the reportable threshold on this voyage is unsatisfactory,” Balzarini added. “We will make changes as a result of this issue, but we need to thoroughly assess what they should be.”
A spokeswoman for Israel’s Agriculture Ministry said she had no comment about the situation, as the office “does not have control over what happens outside the country.”
The ministry stressed, however, that upon docking in Israel, all animals enter a quarantine facility and receive the appropriate veterinary attention as needed.
“Any delay worsens the already severe distress experienced by animals on this arduous journey,” a statement from Anonymous for Animal Rights said.
Such voyages typically last about three weeks, while the animals live packed together in their own excretions, the statement continued.
“We call upon the government to immediately stop the shipments of animals from Australia,” the organization said.