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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 September, 2003, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
Activists halt sheep shipment
About 50,000 unwanted sheep are stranded on a ship in the Gulf
Animal rights activists in Australia have stopped sheep being loaded onto a Kuwait-bound ship, to protest against the export of live animals to the Middle East.

The al-Kuwait had been due to dock at the southern port of Portland on Wednesday, but was blocked by about 50 activists in small boats.

The protest comes as more than 50,000 sheep from Australia remain stranded aboard a ship in the Persian Gulf.

They have been rejected by Saudi Arabia, which said there was too high a level of "scabby mouth" disease among the animals.

The ship full of sheep was offered to the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, which also turned it down.

A shipment of 65,000 New Zealand sheep was also stopped from embarking for Saudi Arabia after New Zealand authorities feared it could face the same uncertainty.

'Beginning of the end'

The Portland activists vowed to stay in the port indefinitely to prevent the ship from coming in.

But port officials said the al-Kuwait was likely to be brought in later on Wednesday.

"We're talking with the protesters, just assessing what their intentions are," an official told AP news agency.

The journey from here in cramped, suffocating conditions (...) is nothing less than appalling
Ralph Hahnheuser
Animal Liberation
The demonstrators, for their part, say they are not moving.

"We will not allow this ship to dock in an Australian port and this is just the beginning of the end of the live export trade from Australia," a spokesman said.

Big business

The Saudi-bound animals' fate has highlighted Australia's live export trade, which animal rights activists denounce as inhumane because livestock are transported for weeks in ships that are often crowded and hot.

Most of Australia's shipments of live animals go to Islamic countries that require halal meat products - from animals that have been killed in according to Muslim tradition.

"The journey from here in cramped, suffocating conditions in temperatures still in the 40s (degrees Celsius) and humidity up to 100% is nothing less than appalling," Ralph Hahnheuser of the Australian group Animal Liberation said.

Livestock exporters say new regulations governing live exports have reduced the loss of animals by half.

Australia is the world's largest exporter of livestock, shipping six million sheep to markets in Asia and the Middle East every year.

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