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Virus ship-bound WA sheep remain in limbo

Sheep that were bound for a livestock vessel stranded in Fremantle amid a coronavirus outbreak remain in limbo as the northern summer live export ban begins.

The three-and-a-half month ban on live exports to or through the Middle East starts on Monday and was implemented this year, sparked by thousands of sheep dying from heat stress on board the Awassi Express in 2017.

Transporting 56,000 sheep that were to sail on the Al Kuwait, which are currently in a feedlot, requires a Federal Agriculture Department exemption to the ban.

The WA Government wants them to be transported as soon as possible and ironically, one of the options is using the Awassi Express, now named the Anna Marra, which is not far off the Fremantle coast.

Another option that has been flagged is flying in a replacement crew for the Al Kuwait, given most of the vessel’s multinational workers are in hotel isolation.

The ship arrived from the United Arab Emirates at Fremantle Port on May 22 and accounts for 20 of WA’s 28 active cases.

Only a skeleton crew of 10 remain on board.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA president Tony Seabrook says the time it is taking to finalise a resolution is frustrating.

Sending the sheep to local abattoirs is considered a last resort as the live export market is much more lucrative.

Meanwhile, one of the ship’s cases has been hospitalised after worsening over the weekend.

Seven port and quarantine workers who had contact with the vessel have been swabbed for the virus but so far not tested positive.

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