September 16, 2003

 

 

No Settlement Yet for Abandoned Sheep By Pakistan Firm

 

A Pakistani livestock trader says he plans to import more than 50,000 Australian sheep stranded on a ship in the Gulf, but both the government and another source at the trading company raised doubts about the deal.

 

The shipload of 57,000 sheep, the focus of angry protests from animal welfare groups, has been at sea for weeks. Saudi Arabia rejected it due to a higher than acceptable rate of low-grade scabby mouth disease among the cargo, and later the United Arab Emirates followed suit.

 

Australia says the Saudi owner of the animals has offered to offload the cargo for free elsewhere.

 

"Yes, we are negotiating to bring that shipment here, but it is not yet finalised," said Asim Ahmad, an official at the Karachi-based P.K. Livestock and Meat Company. "I don't have anything else to share."

 

Saleem Khan, director of livestock at Pakistan's Agriculture and Livestock Ministry, confirmed that the company had informed the ministry about plans to import sheep, but it did not mention any specific shipment schedule.

 

A source at Pakistan's customs department also said that the firm had asked tax authorities three weeks ago to reduce import duties and quarantine charges on the import of 57,000 sheep.

 

Pakistan has been charging 16 percent import duty and 100 rupees ($1.70) per animal per day as quarantine charges.

 

But a senior employee of the same company has denied any intention to import the sheep.

 

Tariq Mahmood Butt, managing director at P.K. Livestock and Meat Company, also said his company, the only Pakistani firm importing Australian livestock, planned to import fresh animals.

 

He also accepted that his company had approached the tax authorities on livestock imports, but denied that it had any link with the rejected Australian sheep.

 

Mohammad Hanif, spokesman at the Agriculture Ministry, said that the sheep would not necessarily be released.

 

Saudi officials have rejected the sheep, on the grounds that six percent were infected by scabby mouth disease, above an agreed five percent tolerance level.

 

Australia said only 0.35 percent were infected.

 

Australia's Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said on Tuesday that Pakistan had become the third country to turn away the sheep and called for their immediate slaughter.