AR-News: Rejected Australian sheep bound for atoll

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Sat Oct 18 20:15:24 EDT 2003,3604,1064685,00.html
Rejected Australian sheep bound for atoll 

David Fickling in Sydney
Friday October 17, 2003
The Guardian 

An isolated coral atoll in the Indian Ocean will be the destination of 52,000 Australian sheep stranded in the Gulf for two months. 
The Cormo Express set sail from Kuwait yesterday bound for the Cocos Islands, a ring of 27 islands 1,680 miles north of Perth with a population of just 640 and owned by Australia. 

The boat left after weeks of deadlock sparked off by Saudi Arabia's refusal to allow the animals into the country. 

Quarantine inspectors said they had found unacceptably high levels of scabby mouth disease, but the claim was contested by the Australian-registered vet on board the Cormo. 

The islands are serviced by a single flight a week from Perth. A third of the population works for the Australian government. Ethnic Malays, who make up the remainder, farm coconuts, ostrich and alpacas. 

West Island in the archipelago has a £3m quarantine station, but it will be unable to support the number of sheep and the Cormo Express will anchor six miles offshore. 

Robert Thorn, an islander, attacked the proposals. "I think it's ridiculous really. This place isn't designed to cater for that many sheep," he said. "The ship's going to be almost as long and tall as some of the islands here. It's going to be 50,000 animals out there crapping into the sea for 21 days, carcasses being thrown overboard." 

The argument over the animals' final destination is unlikely to end on Cocos. The government wants to send them to slaughter in an abattoir on the mainland after an inspection period in the islands, but faces a backbench revolt over the plans. More than a dozen government MPs have complained to the prime minister, John Howard, saying that the sheep could jeopardise Australia's disease-free status. 

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