The livestock carrier Al Kuwait is preparing to depart Australia more than three weeks after the vessel arrived on its last livestock voyage of the season. Crew members aboard the vessel tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Fremantle creating a brief controversy regarding health protocols, the handling of the vessel, and the livestock export industry.
According to officials from the Western Australia Department of Health, the six remaining crew members from the Al Kuwait were cleared of the virus on June 15. At the peak of the outbreak, 21 of the ship’s 43 crew members were reported as testing positive while additional crew members were also placed into quarantine due to possible exposure to the virus. One crew member required hospitalization, while the other crew were held in an isolation hotel on shore with only a skeleton crew remaining aboard the vessel.
After arriving in Fremantle, there had been a public dispute between the local and federal authorities over when the risk of the virus had been first reported and if a failure in communications had potentially exposed port employees, including the pilot who had guided the ship to dock, to COVID-19. Additionally, it was feared that some of the port employees might have carried the virus back into the community. The fears were apparently unfounded as no community spread cases were reported beyond the crew on the vessel.
The situation surrounding the Al Kuwait had been further compounded by a looming seasonal deadline which after June 1 would prevent the export of the live cargo from Australia. The moratorium had been put in place after a high-profile incident when large numbers of animals died during the voyage in part blamed on the high temperatures the vessel traveled through while sailing to the Middle East.
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, with 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 on June 2 that it would not grant an exemption to export livestock.
The decision not to permit the export of the animals was hailed by animal rights groups but caused uncertainty in Australia over the fate of the animals and potential impact on the local meat markets.
In a surprise announcement, the Australian authorities decided on June 13 to reverse their earlier decision and permit the export of up to 50,000 animals provided the Al Kuwait departed by June 17. The vessel currently is still at the dock in Fremantle.
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