Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals Media
The side view of a live export ship. Sheep can be seen on the upper decks and cattle below.

Thousands of animals languish on live export ship sent into conflict zone.

... and the Federal Government approved this, despite knowing of the increased risks to both animals and workers.

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated February 5, 2024

UPDATE: The fate of more than 15,000 animals on board the live export ship, the MV Bahijah, is yet to be confirmed – most of these sheep and cattle are still on board the vessel off Fremantle, some 30 days after departing. The live export regulator is yet to make a decision on whether the exporter will be allowed to send these animals back across the sea.

Animals Australia has been working on every possible angle in search of the ‘best’ outcome for these animals. Unfortunately, just like any animal who is sold into our food systems, there will be no ‘happy’ ending for these individuals on board – this is not unique to the live trade. But our goal is to hold the live export industry and government regulator to account for this latest disaster and ensure that we can influence decisions being made to reduce and alleviate animal suffering, as soon as possible.

Thanks to the support of those standing alongside us, we are ensuring the animals trapped on the MV Bahijah are receiving the strongest possible representation.

A live export ship carrying thousands of Australian sheep and cattle has been forced to turn back to Australia after weeks at sea, due to increasing conflict and danger in the Red Sea.

Israeli-owned vessel, the ‘MV Bahijah’ was destined for Israel and departed from Fremantle on the 5th of January this year. Its export permit was approved by the Federal Department of Agriculture despite knowing that the ship would be heading into a conflict zone.

As conflict escalates in the Middle East, there has been a steadying increase in attacks by Houthis on vessels attempting to cross the Red Sea — one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

Australia’s live export industry has demonstrated time and time again its willingness to condemn animals to extreme risk of suffering and death in the name of profits — so it comes as little surprise that it has attempted to send a ship carrying thousands of animals into such a dangerous and volatile area.

But any caring Australian must also ask the question… how did the Australian government regulator approve this?

That the Federal Department of Agriculture, tasked with the inherently conflicted role of both regulating and promoting the live export industry, approved this ship to leave during such a dangerous time was an extraordinary ‘roll of the dice’. The approval was especially astonishing given this is the same department that paused all independent observers from accompanying live export ships into the area due to increasing volatility.

So, the live export regulator has used ‘safety concerns’ to remove any level of independent oversight of live export shipments while continuing to approve these high-risk shipments to carry overseas workers and animals into areas of known conflict.

The animals trapped on board the MV Bahijah have already endured extended stress and suffering. They now face a prolonged period at sea only to face uncertainty upon finally returning to Australia — there is as yet no guarantee from the government or the industry that further shipments will not be sent into the region.

Trucked from farms to feedlots and ultimately then transferred onto ships, the stress endured by animals condemned to live export can start weeks before the ships finally begin their gruelling journey. On board, they are penned for weeks at a time,  exposed to heat stress, illness, injury and all the risks of the open ocean. Hundreds may die, thousands will suffer… and survivors ultimately will live only to endure further stress and handling in importing countries before finally being slaughtered — a terrifying and painful ordeal at best.

Australia’s live export industry has a decades-long history of knowingly condemning animals to the very worst suffering on ships and in importing countries, many of which have no animal protection laws.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

Sheep crowded in pen and struggling to breath on live export ship.
The risks of sending sheep during brutal northern summer periods were well known for years and the live export industry still packed as many sheep as possible onto its ships.

So while it comes as no surprise to many that it has once again chosen to ruthlessly expose thousands of animals and workers to additional danger — this latest unacceptable situation only reinforces that for live exporters, the wellbeing of animals will always come a distant second to profits on offer.

The Australian Labor government must stay true to its promise — to the animals and to the Australian public — to end live sheep export as soon as possible.

Animals Australia holds serious concerns for the sheep and cattle trapped on the MV Bahijah, and the conditions these animals are enduring after weeks at sea. We have been in contact with the Department of Agriculture and are seeking further information about this developing situation. Stay tuned for further updates.