A replacement crew could be sent to WA to sail a livestock carrier back to the Middle East before the northern summer ban, with sending the sheep to local abattoirs considered a last resort.
After the Al Kuwait docked in Fremantle on Friday, six crew tested positive for coronavirus while 56,000 sheep that have gone through quarantine are now being held in feedlots.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the ship would not be able to return to the Middle East before the June 1 northern summer live export deadline, which was implemented last year after the Awassi Express mass sheep death scandal.
He says the “independent regulator” – his own department – may grant an exemption.
“As far as I know, they’re ready to sail,” Mr Littleproud said on Wednesday.
“That can only happen after two things, firstly, there’s a deep clean of the boat, and crew are healthy enough to do that.”
That could take weeks, well into the northern summer, if the recent Artania cruise ship controversy is a guide.
The vessel brought more than 80 COVID-19 cases to WA, with four of them dying, and was docked at Fremantle Port for more than three weeks.
WA Premier Mark McGowan wants the ship to leave soon and said the state government is working co-operatively with Mr Littleproud on a solution.
“That may include flying in a new crew, subject to strict quarantine, cleaning the ship and getting it under way as soon as possible,” Mr McGowan said.
The premier said Fiona Stanley Hospital was on standby to receive any of the crew, including 27 who are also being isolated in a hotel as a precaution.
The 15 left behind on the vessel are skeleton crew and monitored daily.
The International Transport Workers Federation wants all crew to be tested but the WA government said they will only be assessed if necessary.