Australian maritime authorities have approved the scandal-plagued Awassi Express, the vessel linked to thousands of sheep deaths, to again carry livestock.
It has been two weeks since the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) refused to issue the vessel with a permit to carry livestock amid concerns about ventilation in sheep pens.
“Improvements made to the ventilation system were verified as meeting the requirements of the legislation. The inspection included spot checks of the third party testing,” AMSA said in a statement.
Footage of sheep dying onboard the Awassi Express during a voyage to the Middle East sparked controversy and prompted the federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud to initiate reviews into the live sheep exports and his own department.
The AMSA approval is a significant step forward for the company seeking to send the sheep to the Middle East but is not the final hurdle.
The exporter, Western Australian company Emanuel Exports, still needs an export permit from the Department of Agriculture before sheep can board any ship and be sent offshore.
Emanuel Exports had planned to send 65,000 sheep to the Middle East on the Awassi Express prior to the ship failing the AMSA inspection.
The Awassi Express has remained docked in Fremantle, Western Australia, undergoing repairs.
Emanuel Exports, which does not own the Awassi Express, has since agreed to reduce the number of sheep it will send on ships to the Middle East for the foreseeable future following Department of Agriculture demands.
The company will also allow an independent observer to travel with the sheep to the Middle East and send back daily reports outlining the sheep’s welfare to officials in Canberra.
The AMSA statement said it expected sheep could be boarded onto the Awassi Express later this week pending agricultural approval.
Exporter considers using a different ship to export sheep
Irrespective of the Awassi Express gaining AMSA approval, the ABC understands the exporter might opt against using the ship on its impending consignment to the Middle East.
Emanuel Exports might instead use the Al Messilah, another live export ship currently docked in Fremantle.
The Al Messilah has a permit to carry livestock but needs to make minor improvements to an internal tank and vent pipe, which are unrelated to livestock areas, before it can set sail.
In a statement, the Department of Agriculture said it had “not received an application for an export permit”.
Emanuel Exports has used the Al Messilah in the past, most notably in July 2016, when more sheep died on a shipment to the Middle East than last year’s incident on the Awassi Express.
In that incident, a Department of Agriculture investigation found it had no way of knowing how many sheep died during the voyage.
The department confirmed 1741 sheep died from heat stress and a further 1286 animals “could not be accounted for”.