Live animal exporter Wellard has reported a higher than normal death rate aboard one of its ships, prompting an automatic Federal investigation.
Wellard confirmed yesterday that mortality rates on the MV Ocean Drover, which left Fremantle four weeks ago, were likely to be above the 2 per cent rate that triggers an investigation by the Agriculture Department.
Up to 30 animals a day have been dying on the vessel.
The ship, which left with 42,000 sheep and 6000 cattle, broke down after leaving Australia on its run to the Gulf of Aqaba in the northern Red Sea. That forced it to travel about 70 per cent of its normal speed.
Also during the extended journey, which normally takes about two weeks, the animals were changed over to a grain pellet feed. The pellet is the same the animals will be fed when they arrive in the Middle East.
Wellard managing director Mauro Balzarini said the company had advised the department of the sheep mortality rate.
He said the Ocean Drover had done more than 130 voyages over the past 12 years with a survival rate of 99.3 per cent for sheep and 99.8 per cent for cattle.
"We will make changes as a result of this issue, but we need to thoroughly assess what they should be," Mr Balzarini said.
Mr Balzarini said the livestock remaining on the ship would be cared for by an AQIS accredited veterinarian and four Australian stockmen.
He said the provision of feed, water and ventilation had been unaffected by the ship’s mechanical
trouble. The Ocean Drover has a capacity for 75,000 sheep or 18,000 cattle.
RSPCA chief executive Heather Neil said the incident was deeply concerning.
“It is clear that something has gone terribly wrong on this voyage because even with the delays, such high mortalities would still be rare at this time of year,” she said.
“This incident again highlights the multitude of problems that can arise when transporting live animals by sea and sadly, the dire animal welfare consequences when things go wrong.”
The Ocean Drover is due to arrive today or tomorrow.