The fate of the livestock carrier Al-Kuwait remains uncertain as the crew continues to be in quarantine after having tested positive for COVID-19 and the Australian authorities have refused to permit the loading of its cargo.
The Al-Kuwait arrived in Fremantle, Australia on May 22, reporting “three unwell crew members but none with elevated temperatures or COVID-like symptoms prior to arrival,” according to the Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment. Subsequent testing by the Western Australian Department of Health, initially reported six positive results for COVID-19, with those crew members being moved to quarantine onshore.
The Department of Health is now reporting that a total of 20 crew members have tested positive for COVID-19 and are being held in a quarantine hotel. Other crew members were also placed in quarantine due to close contact with members of the crew who had tested positive, leaving the vessel with a skeleton crew. There were also concerns for Fremantle port employees who had handled the vessel’s arrival or of possible community spread of the virus, but to date, the Health Department has not reported any cases of spread beyond the ship’s crew.
The Al-Kuwait had been due to load a livestock consignment consisting of 56,000 sheep and 420 cattle on May 25 and depart Australia on May 26. With the vessel’s crew in quarantine, the ship’s owners filed for an exemption from the Northern Summer Order, a regulation that places a moratorium on the loading and transport of live animals after June 1. The ship’s operators wanted to load the animals before June 15 and sail to reach its destination in the Middle East before the end of the month.
Various organizations ranging from the local livestock producers to animal rights groups responded to the proposed wavier. Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment announced its decision on June 2 not grant an exemption to export livestock.
The decision not to permit the export of the animals was hailed by animal rights groups, but has also caused uncertainty in Australia. The animals, which should have been exported, will instead be slaughtered locally causing a variety of isues including the potential impact on Australia’s domestic markets.
At the same time, the fate of the ship remains uncertain. Sanitizing has begun while the remaining crew onboard continues to be monitored for the virus. Currently, it appears that the Al-Kuwait will continue to be detained in Australia until at least mid-June after which it may depart without its cargo for a return trip to the Middle East.
Under Australia regulations, the export of live animals is banned during the coming months due to the extreme heat that they would be transported through during the trip. Regulations permit the export of live animals to resume in September, but animal rights groups continue to call for an end to the live export saying that it causes unnecessary suffering for the animals.
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