AUSTRALIAN Accredited Veterinarian (AAV) Haydn Roeger, Changerup, has broken his silence and called in the "Sully" over media and activist comments about the latest live animal export voyage to Israel in May.
Livestock Shipping Services exported 8152 cattle and 48,610 sheep to Israel and Jordan on the Maysora, a voyage which received media attention after its arrival at Eilat was delayed and a stockman was filmed by animal activists on the unloading ramp prodding the cattle.
Pictures of dead cattle were also made public.
The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) said it was investigating the footage despite reports that the voyage was highly "successful" with a 0.53 per cent mortality rate for cattle and 0.24pc for sheep.
Dr Roeger, who was the vet on board the vessel, said a fitting comparison scenario was the Tom Hanks film Sully, which told the story of Chesley Sullenburger, a United States Airways pilot who crash landed into the Hudson River off Manhattan in the US, saving all 155 passengers on board after the plane was disabled from a bird strike shortly after take-off.
"I'm calling in the Sully because at the end of the movie they have all these guys simulating the event about 17 times, and trying to crucify him and his co-pilot, and the next thing he turns around and says 'you have to allow for a certain amount of time that we were doing this or that'," Dr Roeger said.
"So they all get up again and conduct more trials and they all crashed.
"The point is they weren't there.
"I say - you weren't there (in Israel).
"It's what you didn't see - that could have happened."
Dr Roeger is from the Gold Coast, in Queensland and has worked as a vet since 1979.
He worked for the Queensland government in remote western Queensland before being transferred as a BTEC/Quarantine vet to Cape York and the Torres Straits, where he saw the cattle industry struggle until live exports were introduced.
When working on Cape York "the only market the poor buggers had was the meat works at Mareeba (inland from Cairns) and Queerah (Cairns)".
"So they drove their cattle down and they basically took what they could get," he said.
"But live animal exports made northern Australia.
"It also helps down this end too because it gives another market outlet and that's why my heart has always been in it.
"Because I saw what happened on Cape York - they had nowhere to go.
"We should be going harder now."
Dr Roeger could be described as a veteran of the live export trade, making his first voyage about 1988 out of Brisbane to Japan.
"I was transferred from Cairns to Toowoomba to administer the Japanese live export trade out of Brisbane," he said.
"I started on ships because there was a voyage of Japanese slaughter ox, 700-800 kilograms, and the exporter lost 55 of the shipment."
Dr Roeger was put on the next voyage to see what he could do.
"I came in with a world first zero mortality," he said.
"I proved that we could do it and from recollection, I did it a second time too."
Before moving into the private sector he oversaw the live export trade in WA, South Australia and the Northern Territory as a principal veterinary officer for DAWR.
"Everywhere I have worked in rural Australia, with producers and exporters - they are different and I've sometimes had to be tough on them - but I've never shown them any favouritism or anything, I've always played with a straight bat," Dr Roeger said.
"The big thing I'm noted for is I've always dealt the cards straight and I've always tried to help them within the realms of the regulations I had been working under.
"I'd always give them a decision whether they liked it or not and if I felt that there was a decision that wasn't black or white, as there sometimes was, I'd do what I could to help resolve it."
Dr Roeger said he struggled to understand why the live export industry that had proven to be successful and vital to the livestock industry, was continually being targeted.
"We are a caring country, we have a good product and a good track record, so why are they trying to crucify it?" he said.
"I think everyone needs a reality check because we are good at what we do.
"It has a strong future and we should be doing more of it.
"I don't know what more they want out of us?
"The thing is, why are people trying to stop it?
"I've never heard anything positive out of anti-live export groups, it's always negative - there seems to be an agenda."
Dr Roeger said compared to other countries' export programs Australia was more advanced and better regulated.
"I've been to other countries and seen it," he said.
"We are the front runners and as far as I'm concerned we can match anyone.
"And if you talk to the people that receive the livestock they always speak highly of our product, so we are doing the right things - so why crucify an industry?"
He said live exports had become a "hot potato" and a very emotive issue in Israel, with animal activists filming every shipment.
"What you didn't see (in the footage) was the AAV or the accredited stockman racing down with the emergency vet kit, diving over into the crush, tranquilising animals where required, assessing whether animals were dead or alive - risking their lives working in a confined space with cattle that could have jumped over and trampled them," he said.
"You didn't see any of that because it didn't happen.
"You didn't see any animals running around the wharf or diving into the water or personnel running with a wester gun trying to tranquilise and capture escaped animals.
"You didn't see the AAV stopping the discharge which could have caused a huge animal welfare issue as the animals were still moving freely on the vessel's internal discharge ramps.
"You didn't see dead animals having to be removed from the raceway.
"None of that happened.
"So what do they want?
"I think it's disgraceful that you are out there trying to do the best that you can and you cop this when you get home.
"The media and activists are raving on about the voyage being delayed five days - that's not true - it was a two day delay, we were due into port on June 5 and we arrived on the 7th.
"I'm very, very surprised about the criticism.
"The RSPCA - fair enough you've all got your own canoe to paddle, but I'm a bit perplexed with the Cattle Council of Australia (CCA).
"If (the stockman) hadn't had done what he did (on the ramp) it could have been a monumental disaster.
"They want to wake up a bit."
The CCA said at the time that the footage warranted a formal investigation and that the reported number of deaths upon discharge or during the delay needed to be examined, explained and clarified.
Dr Roeger said in his end of voyage report that the whole voyage was uneventful, though he reported some things including the blockage on the unloading ramp.
"With respect to concerns raised over the stockman's methodology in clearing blockages of cattle on the discharge ramp, I believe from my experience the stockman got in there and did the job he had to do," he said.
"Well as far as I know in extensive areas they use the jigger judiciously where necessary.
"If there's one (cow) they can move the stockman will stamp on it to try and get it to level off or they will grab the tail and try and lift it.
"They will manipulate it a bit to make it go forward - it is more of a discomfort thing.
"By manipulating the tail the animal is less likely to lash out and kick other cattle or people.
"But it is just something to get them to go forward."
Dr Roeger said it wasn't the first time that footage had been taken of cattle being unloaded in the Middle East and it wouldn't be the last because "in Australia activists get a reaction".
"The culture in Australia is that we care about our animals and rightly so - but there is a positive and a negative to it, that people can be too critical, especially if they have an agenda," he said.
Dr Roeger said there were some issues that he had trouble with, including the importance of engaging in conversation with activists and the term social licence.
"The big thing now is people have to have a conversation, which I hate hearing - because sometimes it's just a whizz bang talk fest," he said.
"The other one is this social licence - this seems to be getting a fair bit of weight and they use the term a hell of a lot - but you can do a fair bit to influence social licence".
Dr Roeger said he had heard that one of the Australian-based animal activist groups had put about $4m into a campaign "to have a crack at the live sheep trade".
"If this is true I hope that they strategically directed a similar amount of money to the flood and drought stricken producers of Australia in their time of need," he said.
"For $4m that's a pretty big bang for your buck - that must influence social licence."
Dr Roeger said the RSPCA and others had been suggesting that the trade shouldn't continue if the wet bulb temperature reached 28 degrees, based on science.
"From my experience especially in recent voyages to the Middle East from monitoring deck wet dry thermometers and temperature data loggers (Kestrel) I can tell you now 28wb isn't a real marker," he said.
"I hope 'science' is starting to realise that you can get up to 30-31wb and you might start seeing something, but it depends on other factors happening at the same time and it depends on what individual vets or observers record and the timing of their observations."
Dr Roeger said he records his mandatory pant/heat score data observations early in the morning between 4am and 6am, before the sheep become active and get disturbed at feeding time.
"I found if you are going to observe anything you have got to do it at a certain time when sheep are settled, because during the day things are happening around the sheep," he said.
"There are crew going around feeding, cleaning waterers, checking for mortalities whilst the AAV and stockman are doing their routine vet and animal husbandry checks.
"The sheep become very metabolically active especially if they are eating well.
"You see an elevation in respiratory rate which is used as part of the pant score analysis.
"This respiratory rate can sometimes be just mumbo jumbo - I place little credence in it.
"I have observed that as the wet bulb elevates, the animals tend to adapt to the situation whilst still continuing to eat well.
"I do not see them racing to the water or having a significant water intake elevation.
"I said to the observer just prior to discharging in Israel, after all the monitoring of animals for animal welfare issues - in particular heat stress - you will come into Eilat, have a look at your sheep discharging and they will be magnificent!
"In fact, the Israeli vet said they were fantastic - he would say if they weren't."
Dr Roeger said "the bottom line on the whole voyage was that the vessel prior to departure was inspected and passed by AMSA and DAWR issued a Health Certificate and Permit to Export".
He said as an AAV, after the mooring lines were released he was presented with a cargo to look after and the important thing was that during the voyage everyone was doing the best they could to ensure that animal welfare and animal husbandry were well maintained.
Dr Roeger also said a DAWR spokesperson clearly stated that "the department notes that the vessel was accompanied by an independent observer, who reported that there were no abnormal or unexpected animal health or welfare issues observed during this voyage or during discharge," (as reported in Farm Weekly, 'LSS Israel voyage under investigation', June 27, page 5).