A THIRD illegal protest for the year against live exports and staged at the Fremantle port in Western Australia, has drawn stinging criticism from industry members.
Two protesters were arrested this morning after boarding the Livestock Shipping Services owned Bader 3, which was loading WA sheep destined for the Middle East.
One of the activists was re-arrested later in the morning on suspicion of breaching bail conditions, after returning to the scene to join a second phase of protestors supported by the WA Greens.
Speaking to Fairfax Agricultural Media, WA Police Media spokesperson Samuel Dinnison said the protesters entered the live stock vessel after 2am this morning but he was unsure if entry was made via a ramp, or other means.
Mr Dinnison said Fremantle police attended the scene and arrested a 20 year old male and a 23 year old female.
They were both charged with trespass and bailed to appear in Fremantle Magistrates court on November 2.
He said police also seized thumb lock devices during the arrest, which appeared to be home made.
Police returned to the Fremantle port after 8.00am, after receiving another call regarding the same vessel.
Mr Dinnison said a protester was locked onto the ship’s mast and others were on board.
In addition, a number of protesters arrived at the scene, during which time the 23 year old woman was re-arrested and charged with suspicion of breaching bail conditions, having been ordered not to return to the area where the original offence was committed.
However, he said the woman had not yet been charged with the second offence.
Mr Dinnison said there were also reports that other protesters were locking themselves onto areas of the dock - but not the ship - and were blocking either pedestrian or vehicle traffic.
At about 10am Perth time today, he said police resources were at the scene trying to resolve the situation.
Mr Dinnison said protesting was legal so long as it didn’t break any laws like trespass, whereby people blocked traffic and stopped people going about their normal course of business.
The Australian Livestock Exporters' Council CEO Alison Penfold said news of the protesters illegally boarding the vessel at the Fremantle port overnight was another example of more “appalling behaviour” from anti-live export activists.
Ms Penfold said illegal protests were “not the way to improve animal welfare” - she also expressed concerns about the level of security at the Fremantle port.
She said the ship was docked in what was meant to be fully secure area of the port but it was still breached by the activists.
Ms Penfold said ALEC now wanted to work with port authorities to help increase security measures at the site and ensure the safety and security of every vessel, regardless of its cargo.
She said the protest threatened the welfare and safety of the ship’s staff and stockman who were helping with the loading of the sheep, and could have endangered the welfare and safety of the animals on board.
“Excuse the pun but if they have a beef with the industry there are much better ways of taking up their concerns with us,” she said.
“These protesters are also threatening the food security of the different countries that we supply livestock to.
“We’re the only country in the world that’s regulating the safety and welfare of animals from paddock through to the point of processing, under the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme.”
The WA Greens used the protest to call for an immediate halt to all live animal exports.
Greens MLC Lynn MacLaren issued a media statement saying pictures had been taken showing dead and pregnant sheep loaded onto the Bader 3 which would “go across the world on Facebook”.
Ms MacLaren spoke to Fairfax Agricultural Media while at the Fremantle port to “support the activists who have brought this to worldwide attention”.
She was unsure which group was claiming responsibility for the protest.
Ms McLaren said the evidence gathered by the activists while on board the vessel had been sent to the RSPCA and reported to AQIS and she would see what their investigation uncovered, before making any further comments.
“Obviously there’s real concern; there were definitely (sheep) carcasses on board,” she said.
“We really don’t have those details (how the sheep died), only photographic evidence of carcasses.
“The activists boarded the vessel and took photographs and we’d like that evidence examined and an investigation to reveal wether there are incidents to be followed up.”
Ms MacLaren declined to say if she supported the activists breaking the law to stage the protest.
She said two activists have been charged with trespass but nothing had yet been proven.
The Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA expressed concern at the misinformation being spread by activists, with support from Ms MacLaren.
PGA president Rob Gillam said the protesters claimed to have pictures or evidence of pregnant ewes, or female sheep, being loaded onto the Bader 3.
But Mr Gillam said he checked with the exporting company who said they only loaded male sheep onto the Bader 3.
Some came from a delivery sent from Kojonup overnight while others were loaded this morning.
Mr Gillam said the attempt to raise alarm at the sight of dead sheep was also mischievous because regulations allowed tolerances for some fatalities during normal transport methods.
“We want to put the record straight,” he said.
“Lynn MacLaren has said all of these things on air (during a radio interview on 6PR today).
“But the person who has taken the picture hasn’t been able to tell the difference between a ewe and a ram.
“It’s also hard to know where and when the photographs were really taken.
“This would appear to be just another saga of misinformation about the live stock industry presented to the general public via these activists, who only want to close the trade down.
“We’re disappointed that this kind of misinformation continues to be put out there into the public domain.
“The activists seem to be creating a continual diatribe of misinformation to turn people against the industry.
“But the fact is we now have good measures in place to maintain animal welfare standards overseas.
“The unfortunate part is we deal in the facts and they only deal in innuendos.”
Mr Gillam said the PGA did not support illegal protests.
He said there had also been false suggestions that the protesters gained admission to the vessel overnight, having been shown on board by the exporters, with permission.
Livestock Shipping Services managing director Ahmad Ghosheh was contacted but did not return calls before deadline.
The Fremantle port has seen two other similar protests this year, each criticised by industry members and politicians as being illegal and dangerous media stunts that only serve to contradict professional animal welfare standards.
A protest in early March by Forest Rescue saw an 18 year old woman arrested after chaining herself to railings on the world’s biggest live export vessel, the MV Ocean Shearer.
The protest failed to disrupt the Wellard-owned vessel from loading 100,000 sheep destined for the Middle Eastern market and only a minor scene took place.
Another incident in early April saw nine people charged with a range of different offences in connection to the protest which drew the ire of Shadow Federal Agriculture Minister John Cobb.
Mr Cobb criticised the Australian Greens for congratulating the illegal and risky actions of anti-live export activists who locked themselves to the gate on the Al Shuwaikh vessel, interrupting the loading about 80,000 sheep, also bound for the Middle East.
WA Tactical Response Group officers were called in to quell the illegal protest that Greens NSW Senator and animal welfare spokesperson Lee Rhiannon praised in a media statement released later in the day.
Senator Rhiannon said the animal activists were “understandably keen” to gather evidence to publicly highlight the plight of sheep being exported.
“The public outcry and protests will not go away until the cruel and immoral live export trade is stopped,” she said.
But Mr Cobb said, “No politicians should be condoning let alone encouraging illegal activities and these people are Julia Gillard’s partners in government”.
“They are a disgrace,” he said.
Two protestors allegedly locked themselves to a gate at the Fremantle wharf and three others allegedly boarded a ship and locked themselves to certain parts of the vessel.
The three women who entered the ship were charged with other offences that come under the Commonwealth’s Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Regulations 2003.
WAFarmers said they were disappointed that police time and resources had been wasted and hopes that those involved will be dealt with to the full extent of the law.
At the time, WA Livestock Exporters Association Chairman John Edwards said Fremantle port protest was yet another example of people with too much time on their hands and little regard for the law.
In her statement, Senator Rhiannon said the protestors filmed sheep heavily pregnant and with broken legs on the ship.
But Mr Edwards said, “I’d surmise those claims are completely false”.
Other live export industry members criticised the protesters for failing to present the video evidence they claimed to have, for professional scrutiny.