LIVESTOCK Shipping Services (LSS) says an extreme weather event caused the deaths of more than 4000 sheep bound for Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in September last year.
In an exclusive interview with Farm Weekly, LSS said the conditions that hit the Bader III last September were a unique weather event and industry had not suffered a heat stress incident of this kind for the last two years.
It said there was little that could have been done to avoid the losses.
LSS livestock manager Paul Keenan said the event could not have been predicted.
"It was highly distressing for all concerned," he said.
"In extreme heat conditions there are a number of contingencies a ship's captain could carry out to maintain the welfare of the animals, but in this particular case those options weren't available.
"The captain and those on board the boat did everything they could at the time.
"But they were in the channel approaching port and they weren't able to take evasive action.
"We also had the welfare of 75 crew on board that needed to be taken into consideration."
As the mortality rate on board the vessel, the Bader III, was higher than the reportable two per cent the Department of Agriculture investigated the incident.
In that investigation the Department found LSS was not at fault and confirmed the stocking density on the September shipment was in accordance with the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL).
It did, however, ask the company to provide an additional 10pc space over the minimum requirements for its next shipment, which took place last November.
Of the 77,095 sheep on that shipment there was a 0.24pc mortality rate.
The Australian Government Accredited Veterinarian (AAV) reported that there was no evidence of heat stress during that voyage.
For all voyages of livestock to and through the Middle East, exporters are required to complete a Heat Stress Risk Assessment (HSRA).
The acceptable level of risk in the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) is less than a 2pc risk of 5pc mortality.
The purpose of the HSRA is to allow exporters to assess and manage the risk of mortality due to heat stress.
It does not eliminate the risk of mortality due to heat stress.
The department said it would continue to monitor, through daily and end of voyage reports submitted by AAVs, heat-related mortality to determine if additional measures are required to manage the risk of mortality due to heat stress.
This may include requiring additional space to be provided to livestock exported on vessels that record significant heat stress mortalities.
The report stated that all parties followed approved process and did everything they could to deal with the short-term extreme weather conditions.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority also undertook ventilation tests and did not find any evidence indicating the death of the sheep was a consequence of failure to comply with Marine Orders.
Mr Keenan said he recognised that LSS had been involved in a number of incidents in recent times, but the export company wasn't disproportionately represented in the release of investigation reports considering its volume of exports and high number of destination markets.
He also responded to calls that the exporter should have its license revoked.
"All incidents are investigated by the Department of Agriculture and in all investigations that have been completed we have been found to have complied appropriately," he said.
"We have met the standards for shipments that we have undertaken.
"Unfortunately there is sometimes leakages in a supply chain and ESCAS was put in place to trace those leakages better."
Mr Keenan said LSS's parent company, Hijazi & Ghosheh Group was investing more than $600 million into its business and destination markets to provide more robust control systems where possible in the future.
"We recognise things have changed within the live export industry and we want to take a greater control over the way we export and process livestock," he said.
"We are already rolling out strategies and significant investment into countries such as Jordan, Egypt, UAE and Libya.
"In Jordan and Egypt we have already constructed closed loop facilities for better management and control and a new quarantine and abattoir facility in Libya.
"We also operate through integrated feedlot and abattoir systems in the UAE and Qatar and we are pushing for a similar system in Bahrain also, as we hope that market will open again soon."
Once these investments are rolled out, Mr Keenan said LSS would be the only live export company that could truly take livestock from paddock to plate.
"LSS is investing in these systems so we can have control of the animals all the way through," he said.
"In some instances, without these closed loop systems we would never be able to export to those markets, so Australian livestock producers will benefit greatly from this investment. Once those facilities are built, they won't be taking South American livestock or African livestock, they will be taking Australian livestock only and WA farmers will benefit from this directly."
Mr Keenan said livestock producers in Australia could look forward to better times ahead, particularly sheep producers who had been hit hardest by the introduction of ESCAS.
"We would like to think the Bahrain market, which could take 400,000 sheep a year, will open again soon and the opening of Iran is also looking promising and this could be a one million a year sheep market," he said.
On the cattle front, LSS has also been awarded the biggest contract to supply Angus feeder cattle to Russia with an order of 32,000 head, and these are currently being sourced from WA and the Eastern States.
Mr Keenan said LSS ships also assisted exporters and producers in northern Australia during the last quarter of 2013 in the rush to fill quotas for Indonesia by supplying carrying capacity for 75,000 cattle in the November-December period.
The company also has plans to acquire a beef abattoir in Victoria.