Sheep crowded in a pen on board the MV Bahijah

Reprieve for thousands of stranded sheep and cattle.

The live export regulator's decision not to allow the MV Bahijah to sail to Israel offers some respite for the animals after their 33 day ordeal at sea.

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated February 6, 2024

Australia’s live export regulator has rejected an application to re-export thousands of sheep and cattle trapped on the MV Bahijah after a month at sea.

16,000 cattle and sheep have been languishing inside the live export ship after it was forced to turn back to Western Australia due to increasing conflict in the Red Sea.

Inconceivably, rather than offload them immediately, the exporter applied for a new export permit —  to re-export the animals via a longer and more gruelling route around Africa.

If approved, these animals would have been at sea for over 60 days — the longest live export voyage from Australia since the Cormo Express disaster, during which over 6,000 sheep perished.

In a significant decision for the animals, the Federal Department of Agriculture announced it will not approve the application, citing the failure to meet animal welfare and importing country requirements.

Our immediate feeling is one of immense relief. We are so very grateful to our legal team who worked day and night to find avenues to prevent these animals from facing 60-plus days at sea. And our thanks also to our colleague groups, both here and abroad, who have so exceptionally represented these animals.

The complexity of the work we've done behind the scenes may not have made headlines, but it gave the regulator reason to reject the export permit application.
Lyn White AM
Animals Australia

This image contains content which some may find confronting

This map shows the extended route the sheep and cattle would have been forced to travel over the next 30+ days - just so they can be killed for their meat in Israel.
Image credit: Dr Lynn Simpson /

What does this mean for the animals?

It’s important to note though that we do not see this as a ‘win’ but instead, a reprieve.

The Department of Agriculture has stated that “the next steps for the livestock onboard the vessel are commercial decisions for the exporter to make.” Commercial decisions, because the truth is that the surviving animals on the MV Bahijah are the ‘property’ of the exporter – a company that so far has not only sent thousands of animals into a conflict zone, but then applied to condemn them to an even more gruelling journey after they had already endured weeks at sea.

We expect that the exporter will be looking to mitigate financial losses, though it’s unclear exactly what this will mean for the animals, as this situation is unprecedented. One possibility is that the exporter will unload the animals, rest them and in weeks to come, re-apply for another export permit, meaning these animals may still face further export.

The sad reality is that we cannot ‘save’ these animals. 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 has been 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 their suffering, as soon as possible.

It is our position that the thousands of surviving sheep and cattle who remain inside the MV Bahijah have endured enough — they should never have to set foot on a ship again. We’re continuing to explore every possible avenue on behalf of the animals trapped within this ship, and for all others who will come after them.

It has never been clearer why live animal export must end.

As caring Australians have become all too aware, this trade has been littered with animal welfare disasters — and on each occasion we have honoured these animals by being their voice with our politicians, and that is what we must do again. It’s important to remember that every single ship that leaves our shores loaded with gentle animals is an animal welfare disaster.

Even when things go ‘well’, animals suffer and die, and almost all will face the terror and pain of fully conscious slaughter when they reach their destination. Cruelty and suffering is simply the ‘cost of doing business’ to Australia’s live export industry.

That shipping these animals back to Israel was the live export industry’s preferred option when less cruel alternatives existed presents further evidence as to why this trade must end.

Yet again, the live export industry’s ‘animal welfare’ claims have been brutally and completely exposed as PR spin.

Together, let us ensure that the story of the animals on the Bahijah is one of the very final pages of the tragic story that is live animal export.

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