IN THE NEWS: Live export deaths under investigation

IN THE NEWS: On MAR 24, 2010

The Federal Government is investigating the death of 263 cattle that were being shipped from Western Australia to Egypt.

Some 16,500 cattle were on board the Ocean Shearer, owned by the Fremantle-based company Wellard Rural Exports.

The company also exports cattle from Darwin.

Managing director Steve Meerwald says the trip took 15 days longer than expected because of injury to a crew member and piracy concerns.

He says it's unclear whether the prolonged journey contributed to the deaths.

"There were a range of circumstances that prolonged the voyage that were frustrating for all involved that may or may not have contributed," he says.

"We certainly welcome an investigation to ascertain exactly what the issues were to make sure that they can be remedied for future voyages.

"There's no doubt had the vessel arrived three days earlier than it actually did arrive ... the losses would have been less."

The Federal Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries says it's been told cattle deaths on board were 1.6 per cent.

"This will trigger an investigation by relevant government agencies into the causes of the deaths," a DAFF spokeswoman says.

"The outcome of the investigation will be published on the DAFF website once completed."

The RSPCA's Heather Neil says the incident highlights concerns with the live export trade, particularly long journeys to the Middle East.

"On long journeys there can be issues around heat stress, there can be bad weather and the animals are effectively seasick," she says.

"They're on a ship that they are getting rolled around in very big seas, there could be issues with disease. Some animals starve."

Ms Neil says more local meat-processing facilities would enable companies to avoid the export of live cattle entirely.

"We need to really get our focus back on what's happening in Australia and have more processing facilities here," she says.

"At the same time these animals were being put on a ship, Australian workers in our meat-processing facilities were being laid off because of a shortage of animals."

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