Background to the Cormo Express Incident

The Cormo Express left Australia on 6 August for Saudi Arabia with a consignment of 57,937 sheep owned by a Saudi Arabian livestock export company, Hmood Alali Alkhalaf Trading Company. When the vessel arrived at Jeddah on 21 August, a Saudi Arabian Ministry of Agriculture veterinarian (was not the normal veterinarian team, confidential source) rejected the shipment asserting that 6 per cent of the sheep had a minor condition called scabby mouth. This was above the 5 per cent acceptance level for scabby mouth in the live sheep trade to Saudi Arabia.

However, the sheep had been vaccinated before leaving Australia and the Australian veterinarian on board the vessel estimated the incidence of scabby mouth to be only 0. 35 per cent. A subsequent independent veterinary assessment by the Middle East regional representative of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE), the world organisation for animal health, also found no evidence that a significant outbreak of scabby mouth had occurred aboard the vessel. The Saudi owner of the consignment was unable to find another market for the sheep.

Concerned for the welfare of the animals, the Australian Government, on behalf of the Australian live animal export industry, purchased the sheep for $4. 5 million on 24 September. Immediate Impact of Shipment Rejection On 28 August, the Australian Government suspended indefinitely live sheep exports to Saudi Arabia. Its our understanding this took place as a regional agreement across many of the countries of the Middle East would prevent any other country from accepting the Cormo Express shipment.

Australia has exported about 3 million sheep to destinations in the Middle East this year without other problems and all shipments to the region since the Cormo Express have been completed without incident. Essentially the shipment was reviewed and rejected by a different veterinarian team. It may be speculated that this was part of a greater plan to disrupt Australian live sheep exports and embarrass the Australian government. The situation with the Cormo Express has arisen through exceptional circumstances.

Whilst we are unable to establish a clear link, it may be asserted that this shipment rejection may have been politically motivated, representing retaliatory action against Australia for its role in Iraq. Mexican Standoff – The Cormo Express Saga Movements of the Vessel After the vessel left Saudi Arabia it went to Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and then to Kuwait. It took onboard extra feed and other supplies at ports in the latter two countries. Who paid Whilst the farmers who provided the sheep for the consignment were paid in full by the Saudi company before the vessel left Australia.

The Government has agreed that the costs associated with resolving the Cormo Express incident should be recovered from industry. The final figure is not yet known, but it is estimated the full costs will be around $10 million. The most practicable way to do this would appear to be through a specific levy designed to raise the revenue from the sector that benefits from the live animal export trade. Specific details remain to be resolved. Shipment Mortalities On board the Cormo Express as of 22 October (prior to unloading at Eritrea) were 5581, or 9.

63 per cent. Deaths have been largely the result of heat and other factors related to transport. A normal delivery voyage takes about two weeks. When the Cormo Express docked in Saudi Arabia, about 1 per cent of the sheep had died, well below the 2 per cent level that automatically triggers a full Australian investigation into a voyage. Final Destination, Eritera Australian representatives had been involved in active discussions relating to the possible destinations for the consignment with more than 50 countries.

The government had been negotiating with the Government of Eritrea for about three weeks. An MOU was signed between the Australian High Commissioner in Kenya and the Eritrean Minister for Agriculture on 16 October. Australia provided the consignment to the Government of Eritrea as a gift, along with 3000 tonnes of pelletised feed, technical expertise and $A1 million in financial assistance to the Eritrean Ministry of Agriculture, to defray the expense to Eritrea of handling such a large consignment and meeting animal welfare requirements.

Australian veterinarians supervised the health and welfare of the sheep throughout the voyage. On arrival in Eritrea, they were supervised by the Director of Veterinary Services for Eritrea and his staff. The Australian team discussed the needs of the sheep with Eritrean officials. Future of Live Sheep Exports Despite this incident, the trade in livestock exports remains strong. It generates about $1 billion a year in export earnings and directly employs about 9000 people, mostly in regional and rural areas of Australia.

As noted above, Australia exports to a number of major Middle Eastern countries. It is still unclear the long term impact over this incident. The export ban to Sudia Arabia remains in place. Government Inquiry Australia's livestock export industry is worth $1 billion a year, such incidents represent a substantial threat to industry trade performance. The Government has commissioned an independent inquiry, to be chaired by Dr John Keniry, into this incident and wider aspects of the livestock export industry.

The objective of the inquiry is to review current systems in place to protect the industry and to ensure there is no repetition of events such as the Saudi rejection. It will also consider the types of livestock suitable for export; the supervisory arrangements for voyages (including reporting on the condition of the livestock) and contributing factors to the Cormo Express situation. The inquiry will report by the end of December 2003 and will examine the adequacy of present arrangements, such as welfare model codes of practice and current regulatory arrangements for the live export industry.