MORE than 100 cows have died on the Vroon livestock carrier Brahman Express on a voyage from Darwin to Jakarta.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry confirmed this afternoon [26 March] it had been notified by a commercial exporter “of an incident involving cattle deaths on a live export vessel exporting to Indonesia”. The 22-year old ship sailed on 15 March and arrived at Panjang on 20 March and then Belawan two days later.

“Prior to departure, the department undertook pre-export inspections to ensure that the livestock met requirements under the Export Control Act 2020 and importing-country requirements,” DAFF said.

“There is no suggestion that exotic animal disease is involved. We are investigating the incident as per normal procedures and as a matter of priority.

“Australia remains free of exotic animal diseases such as Lumpy Skin Disease and Foot and Mouth Disease.” 

There has been no information released about the number of animals shipped on Brahman Express but it is reported as having capacity for around 4500 feeder cattle or 2200 heavier weight cattle. The notifiable mortality level for cattle transported by sea is 0.5% of the shipment or three animals, whichever is greater. Efforts are underway to treat remaining animals that may be affected.

In a statement Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council chief executive Mark Harvey-Sutton said initial assumptions were that an outbreak of botulism could be the cause, given the animals came from a single property.

“Prior to departure, all livestock loaded onto the vessel were assessed to be in good health and fit to load and were inspected by veterinarians,” Mr Harvey Sutton said.

“The issue was self-reported by the exporter, which is assisting DAFF with further investigation. The exporter has conducted itself correctly through the process and will work closely with DAFF to determine the cause of the deaths.

“DAFF is engaging with Indonesian officials to keep them informed of the issue. Australia is confident that there is no evidence of an exotic disease and that our Animal Health Status remains unchanged.

“Indonesia is Australia’s most important trading partner for live cattle and it is important that we work closely and transparently with them as we work through this issue.”

Brahman Express has hit the headlines on more than one prior occasion. On 4 October 2023 it suffered an engine room fire shortly after sailing from Darwin with 3800 cattle. Although no injuries to crew or livestock were reported, AMSA ordered the ship return to port. Livestock were discharged and reloaded on another ship, with Brahman Express subsequently (23 October) towed to Singapore for repairs.

In February 2023 DAFF placed an independent observer board the vessel for a 13-day voyage from Townsville to Jakarta with 3545 head of cattle.  No adverse animal health and welfare outcomes arising from exporter arrangements were observed, and no regulatory action was taken for the voyage, which received a clean bill-of-health from the observer.