Sheep death ship may save WA virus vessel

WA wants the Al Kuwait to leave its shores as soon as possible as most of the crew is quarantined.
WA wants the Al Kuwait to leave its shores as soon as possible as most of the crew is quarantined.

The ship that caused the northern summer live export ban may come to the rescue of a vessel stranded in Western Australia after 12 crew tested positive for coronavirus.

The Al Kuwait docked in Fremantle on Friday with 48 multinational crew on board but a bureaucratic bungle led to crew who had fevers en route being tested three days later.

Six cases were then diagnosed on Monday and a further six cases were confirmed on Thursday.

Three of the new cases tested positive while still on board the ship and the other three were among dozens of crew taken off the vessel as a precaution on Wednesday.

A skeleton crew of 10 remains on board and they have been tested for COVID-19 while their 38 colleagues will be tested in hotel quarantine, including two crew members who had significant contact with the positive cases.

The 56,000 sheep on board are now being held in feedlots and discussions are under way to see if the rebadged Awassi Express can take the sheep to the Middle East.

It will require an exemption to the northern summer live export ban, which begins on Monday and was ironically implemented after a scandal erupted over mass sheep deaths on the Awassi Express in 2017.

That ship, now named the Anna Marra, is not far off the Fremantle coast.

"Hopefully we can get that arrangement," state Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan said.

"We know that they were looking at the possibility of getting a new vessel in to get that loaded and get that away as early in June as we can."

The earlier the better, to spare the sheep from extreme heat, she added.

Premier Mark McGowan on Wednesday had flagged flying in a replacement crew to sail the Al Kuwait, but using a different vessel was the best option, Ms MacTiernan said.

Sending the sheep to local abattoirs is considered a last resort.

Australian Associated Press