The MV Bahijah left Fremantle in Western Australia bound for Jordan on January 5, but escalating attacks on commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea have halted the vessel’s journey.
Since the start of the conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have repeatedly attacked shipping in one of the world’s major trade routes.
To reach its destination, the ship needs to travel through the Red Sea, or divert around Africa, which would add significant travel time.
A spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture said the Australian government was closely monitoring the situation.
“The health and welfare of the animals onboard remains a top priority,” the spokesperson said.
“The vessel has diverted away from the Red Sea due to the worsening security situation.”
As of Friday evening, the ship was south of India in the Indian Ocean.
RSPCA Australia’s chief science officer Dr Suzie Fowler said she was “deeply concerned” about the situation.
“There are cattle and sheep on board the ship, and the welfare of both is at a high risk of compromise — given the ship currently appears to have no confirmed destination,” she said.
“This redirection will likely prolong an already long and arduous journey for the animals who are on board.
“The vessel has already been at sea for 14 days; while we don’t yet have confirmation of the direction or route the vessel will now take, we’re deeply concerned about additional exposure to more hot and humid conditions for which these Australian animals won’t be acclimatised.”
Dr Fowler said the RSPCA was calling all live exporters to immediately implement a voluntary suspension of all live export voyages to destinations that are in, or near, regions of conflict.
“The unexpected changes to the MV Bahijah’s journey highlight the volatility and unpredictability that is endemic to live export, because neither the Australian Government nor exporters themselves can control the circumstances of live export voyages,” she said.
At the time of the ship’s departure, the Department of Agriculture said it was satisfied that the arrangements for the transport of the livestock were appropriate.
“As a condition of departure, the exporter was required to lodge contingency arrangements should the vessel not be able to reach the proposed destination in the Middle East,” the spokesperson said.
“The exporter also loaded additional fodder and veterinary supplies above those required by Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock for the proposed voyage.”
A registered veterinarian and an accredited stock person are on board the vessel.
The exporter has various options, including whether it turns back to Australia or docks at another port.
MarineTraffic currently suggests the ship is bound for South Africa.
The Department of Agriculture said there no significant animal health or welfare concerns have been reported at this time.