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Last Updated: Friday, 12 September, 2003, 07:08 GMT 08:08 UK
Australian sheep on 'death ship'
Australia earns about US$125m a year from live sheep exports
A row is raging in Australia over the fate of more than 50,000 unwanted sheep stranded in gruelling temperatures in the Middle East.

An animal welfare group said on Friday that the sheep should be put down, amid claims that thousands of the animals had already died.

The sheep arrived in Saudi Arabia for import five weeks ago, but were rejected because the kingdom claimed 6% of them were suffering from scabby mouth disease.

This was 1% more than the Saudi Government agreed to allow.

According to Hugh Wirth, Australian president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 3,500 of the sheep have now died.

He said the sheep were facing temperatures of 45-50 degrees centigrade (113-122 degrees Fahrenheit) .

"It's a fairly hefty option to kill 57,000 sheep, but the fact of life is, what alternative have we got?" he said in an interview with ABC radio.

Australian Greens Senator Bob Brown agreed that the sheep should be put down.

"It's just horrific that this ship has been turned into a death ship,'' Senator Brown told reporters.

"There are hundreds of sheep dying every day and the rate will increase."

'Premature' panic

But the chief executive of Australia's Livestock Export Corporation insisted the sheep were not in particular danger.

"They are in good condition under the circumstances and for that reason we feel it would be premature to put the sheep down,'' said Kevin Sheill.

"We are certainly not at that stage, there is a vet and a stockman with them with plenty of supplies, the ship is a bit like a floating feedlot," he said.

Mr Sheill said negotiations were under way with another Middle East country to accept the cargo.

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