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Concerns stranded livestock could still go to Israel

The fate of thousands of sheep and cattle stuck on a vessel off Perth remains in limbo as animal advocates raise concerns a fresh application to export them could be made.

About 15,000 animals have been packed aboard the MV Bahijah since January 5, when it sailed for the Middle East from Perth's Fremantle before being ordered to abandon its voyage due to Houthi rebel attacks in the Red Sea.

Australian authorities on Monday rejected an application to re-export the livestock to Israel by going around southern Africa, saying the export control rules had not been complied with and it was not satisfied the animals' health and welfare could be assured on the journey.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said the livestock and what happens to them going forward were commercial decisions for the exporter.

It said a range of options were available and the department stands ready to assess any future application submitted by the exporter.

Australian Alliance for Animals welcomed the decision to reject the application but it's concerned the exporter could make a fresh application in another attempt to send them to the Middle East.

The advocacy group wants the livestock, which remain on the ship in waters off the West Australian coast near Perth, unloaded in Australia.

"If the exporter fails to do this, the Department of Agriculture should utilise all regulatory powers at its disposal to compel the exporter to unload the animals," policy director Jed Goodfellow said on Tuesday.

"These animals have been through enough - over a month of standing and lying in their own waste and enduring oppressive heat and humidity at high stocking densities."

RSPCA WA said the animals were not out of danger and they are still "suffering from stress and fatigue as this process continues to drag on".

It also wants the animals unloaded and said the ship was understood to be scheduled to return to port on Thursday.

"It's disappointing in the extreme that the decision-making process is proving so long and arduous while these sheep and cattle remain aboard," chief executive Ben Cave said.

Except for a couple of hundred head of cattle unloaded on Friday, the animals have remained on the vessel since it returned to Australian waters in recent weeks.

The department has said 51 sheep and four head of cattle have died since they were loaded but this wasn't out of the ordinary given the total number of animals on the ship.

If the animals are re-exported they are likely to be at sea for another month as the MV Bahijah sails around Africa to avoid the Red Sea - an area where Houthi rebels in Yemen have targeted ships heading to Israeli ports.

After the decision to reject the export application was announced, Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said the department's decision on the MV Bahijah had to balance export legislation, animal welfare considerations and the requirements of Australia's international trading partners.

"I encourage members of the WA meat processing supply chain to assist with the handling of these animals, which are prime Australian produce," he said.

The Australian Livestock Exporters Council said in a statement on Tuesday that "any moves to use this issue to attempt to further the government's proposed ban on live sheep exports would be cheap, callous and cynical".

Green Senator Mehreen Faruqi welcomed the department's decision to reject the export application and said Labor should "stop kicking the can down the road and immediately legislate an end date for (the live export) trade in misery".