Indonesia Suspends Some Live Imports After Deaths on Carrier from Australia

animal livestock carrier
Brahram Express is fueling the debate in Australia after news of a large number of animal deaths on its recent voyage (Vroom file photo)

Published Mar 29, 2024 8:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

The controversy over live animal export is continuing to grow in Australia after news of a larger-than-normal number of animal deaths aboard one of the vessels sailing from the country. While the authorities are continuing to investigate the possibility of disease, animal rights groups which have long called for the end of the trade have increased their efforts citing the latest case of the Brahman Express.

The vessel which runs between Australia and Indonesia departed on Darwin on March 14 and by the time it reached Indonesia 10 days later it was reporting according to the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF)  an “incident involving cattle deaths.” The DAFF did not confirm the number of actual deaths but media reports are saying that it was believed to be more than 100 cattle on a vessel with a capacity of around 4,500 feeder cattle or 2,200 heavier-weight cattle. Built in 2002, the 5,600 dwt Brahman Express is one of a few relatively new, purpose-built vessels in the trade.

Even before the vessel returns to Australia, which is expected next Monday, Apil 1, according to its AIS signal, the controversy is growing. DAFF confirmed two days after the vessel departed Indonesia it received confirmation from the Indonesian authorities that the export of live cattle from a particular (unnamed) Australian supplier was being temporarily suspended, pending further investigations to determine the cause of the deaths.

It comes as a blow to the industry as Australia is Indonesia's biggest supplier of live cattle shipping around 400,000 animals worth around $400 million to the country annually. In February, Indonesia issued permits to import around 650,000 head of Australian cattle this year.

Even before news of this incident began to go public, the Australian government was pushing forward with a plan to phase out live exports. On March 25, just one day before the first public announcement by DAFF regarding the current issue with the Brahman Express, Parliament debated a motion on live sheep exports that was tabled in response to the governments’ plans.

The Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council (ALEC) is publicly criticizing lawmakers for supporting the ban saying they are using “tired and factually incorrect arguments” considering the industry has reformed and is growing.

“In 2023 volumes were 30 percent higher than 2022, all while this policy has hung over the industry’s head,” said ALEC in a statement. “We have also sent approximately 40,000 sheep to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2024, a market that only reopened this year.”

ALEC added that the argument that chilled or boxed meat will replace live animal exports is also a fallacy considering that many of Australia’s international trading partners already take chilled meat but remain the largest markets for live animals. Data shows that Australia’s live sheep export industry employs more than 3,500 people in Western Australia and is worth $85 million (US$55.5 million) in direct payments to producers with an assumed multiplier effect close to $300 million (US$196 million).

DAFF reports as the debate continues that it is working with Indonesian officials to provide assurance about the circumstances leading to the deaths and that it will provide a report upon the conclusion of investigations.

Precautionary testing undertaken by the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness, DAFF reports have had negative results for exotic diseases, including Lumpy Skin Disease and Foot and Mouth. The department continues to investigate the cause of the livestock moralities, reporting that clinical signs present in the cattle are consistent with botulism. They explained that botulism in cattle is most often caused by the animals eating a toxin produced by bacteria in contaminated feed. It is not a contagious or exotic disease and is not a risk to the Australian herd or human health.