No happy endings likely in three-month sheep-at-sea saga
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2003:
KUWAIT–The livestock ship Cormo Express was to sail back to
Australia on October 15 with 52,000 sheep who were refused entry into
Saudi Arabia on August 22 after some were found to have scabby mouth
The return voyage had been delayed for 24 hours by difficulty
in obtaining enough fodder to sustain the sheep en route to a planned
first stop for Australian veterinary inspection at the Cocos Islands,
also known as the Keeling Islands, about 1,500 miles west of
Australian authorities had not yet decided what to do with
the sheep. More than 100 nations had reportedly refused them, even
as a gift that they were subsidized to take. Options included trying
to slaughter the sheep at sea, disposing of their remains via the
nine-story mincer used to dispose of animals who die individually in
transit; landing the sheep for slaughter on the Australian mainland,
probably at Albany; and repatriating the sheep alive to the Outback,
where they might still be killed and buried.
The Australian Meat Industry Council vehemently fought return
of the sheep to Australian soil, on the pretext that they might
bring back new infections after traveling halfway around the world
twice, spending at least 11 weeks at sea by the time they reach the
Cocos/ Keeling Islands.
The Cormo Express left Fremantle with 57,937 sheep on August
5. Australian officials denied that the Saudi government rejected
the sheep in retaliation for Australian support of the U.S.
occupation of Iraq. The Australian government repurchased the sheep
from the Saudi buyer for $4.5 million U.S. and halted all further
sales of livestock to Saudi Arabia.
Australian exports of live sheep to the Middle East are worth
just under $100 million U.S. per year, a small yet politically
volatile portion of the $5.5 billion U.S. per year Australian meat
industry. Saudi Arabia buys about two-thirds of the Australian live
All Australian livestock exports to the Middle East were
suspended from 1989 until 2000 in a previous dispute over rejections
of sheep by Saudis and others. Saudi Arabia responded then by
banning sheep from Australia, 1991-1995, an action attributed by
some sources to Saudi discontent over Australian support for the
U.S. during the first Persian Gulf war.
Live sheep exports from Portland, Australia, were suspended
in October 2002 by Australian agriculture minister Warren Truss,
after five shipments in a row including one by the Cormo Express had
deaths exceeding the Australian recommended ceiling of 2%.