WA virus ship to take sheep to Middle East

The Al Kuwait can export live sheep to the middle east from WA, with extra animal welfare measures

Thousands of sheep left stranded in Western Australia after a livestock ship became infected with coronavirus will be sent to the Middle East, with the federal government granting an exemption to its live export ban.

The Al Kuwait vessel docked in Fremantle on May 22 and had been set to take 56,000 sheep before crew members began testing positive to COVID-19.

Earlier this month, the federal agriculture department denied Rural Export and Trading WA an exemption to its northern summer live export ban on the basis of animal welfare concerns.

But on Saturday the department said it had approved a fresh application to have some sheep sent to the Middle East onboard the Al Kuwait.

It must set sail by Wednesday, the department said in a statement.

The exemption includes strict measures to protect the health and welfare of the sheep including unloading at one port only, not loading a hotter area of the ship near the engine room, and only taking sheep that can best tolerate heat.

A vet will also join the voyage.

WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said the issue should have been resolved weeks earlier.

"The public would have more confidence in today's decision if there had not been a strong and differing decision made just weeks ago," she said.

"Given the risk, there needs to be strong transparency measures put in place - a government-appointed vet should be assigned to this vessel and real time remote monitoring of the animals once hot weather is reached."

The sheep are being held in a feedlot south of Perth and had been set to be slaughtered in WA as a result of the first application being denied.

The northern summer ban was sparked by thousands of sheep dying from heat stress aboard the Awassi Express in 2017.

Thirteen crew from the Al Kuwait remain infected with coronavirus and are in hotel quarantine.

No new positive tests were reported on Saturday, leaving the state's tally of active cases at 18.