| Sheep leave ‘ship of death’ (October 25, 2003)

This has to be called a “win – win” situation, but one that has taken far too long to implement. The whole live sheep export industry needs to undergo some sort of review process to ensure that this can never happen again.

Sheep leave ‘ship of death’
By Patricia Karvelas and Belinda Hickman
October 25, 2003

ONE of the world’s poorest nations will be paid $1million to take the 50,000 Australian sheep that have been stranded at sea in the Middle East for three months.

50,000 stranded sheep have found a new home

More than two months after being rejected by Saudi Arabia, the Howard Government revealed yesterday the African nation of Eritrea had agreed to take the sheep.

Despite secretly signing a memorandum of understanding with the Africans last Thursday, the Howard Government – which has come under enormous pressure over its handling of the issue – did not reveal the final destination for the sheep until 4.30pm yesterday – 30 minutes after the animals landed on Eritrean soil.

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In addition to the $1 million, the Eritrean Government will be given 3000 tonnes of fodder for the sheep, which will become food for the poor country’s population.

The $1 million is intended to cover the costs of unloading, transporting, vaccinating and slaughtering the sheep. “If there’s any of that money left over from the $1million, we have undertaken to provide that as aid to Eritrea to projects associated with the livestock industry,” Agriculture Minister Warren Truss said last night.

Announcing the end of the saga, Mr Truss said the MV Cormo Express began unloading the sheep in Eritrea at 4pm yesterday. He said it would take three days for them to be unloaded.

The sheep started unloading in the main Eritrean port of Massawa, and are being transported 58km to a feedlot near the capital, Asmara.

“I make no apologies for the fact that the negotiations have been undertaken largely in secret,” Mr Truss said. “If too many people had known about them there was always the risk that this deal would suffer the same consequences as some others when premature publicity has led to the failure of negotiations.”

A team of federal and West Australian government and industry officials have travelled to Eritrea in the past fortnight, using contacts in Egypt and Libya to forge a deal, after the Eritrean Government indicated it was interested in accepting the sheep.

The MV Cormo Express was turned around on Tuesday. It was in the Arabian Sea, en route to the Cocos Islands.

Mr Truss said the deal had been uncertain until Eritrean veterinary approvals were complete and approval to unload had been granted.

Mr Truss estimated the entire saga had cost the federal Government $10 million.

Farmers groups welcomed the development yesterday, saying it would protect Australia from any quarantine risk.

And RSCPA national president Hugh Wirth said he was “greatly relieved”.

The Australian