The Cormo Express and the Saudi Trade

(Cormo Express renamed Merino Express – see A Disaster by any other name)

Brief Saudi shipment history:
In 1991 the then Government and industry suffered a major embarrassment over the attempted resumption of live exports to Saudi Arabia .

The trade was halted after 13 shipments were rejected due to the poor condition of arriving sheep. On board death rates tripled during the delays. In 1990 The Mawashi Al-Gasseem was forced to stay on the water for almost 4 MONTHS before a country could be found to accept the sheep.

When the trade was halted, the Government stated that exports should only be allowed to resume after strict veterinary and quarantine protocols had been established between our respective governments to safeguard the condition of the sheep and to ensure that future shipments would not be rejected.

Yet on 21-03-1995 the Federal Primary Industries Minister Senator Bob Collins, announced the resumption of exports despite the fact that no such protocols had been established.

After 1999, verbal protocols were apparently put in place to ensure that no further disruption to the shipping of live animals between Saudi Arabia and Australia would occur! BUT it happened AGAIN, mid-late AUGUST 2003, AND ENTIRE SHIPMENT OF NEARLY 57,000 SHEEP WERE REJECTED.

If the trade had reached former levels approximately 75,000 additional sheep would have died at sea each year, or over 200 a day, and another 3 million would have been brutally slaughtered without pre stunning.

October 25 2003

Australian public deceived as the Aust Govt finalises a secret deal..

While Australians discussed and debated the politics of the sheep coming back to Australian land, the Government had done a secret deal to send the sheep to Eritrea .

The ship was thought to be returning back to Australia but was in fact headed toward The African Port of Massawa. By the time the story had broken the deal had been struck, the ship had berthed and the offloading began.

The Howard Government has paid $10 million of taxpayers money to Eritrea along with 3000 tonnes of fodder (worth an additional $1 million), a payment for the country to take the remaining animals aboard the Cormo Express -"ship of death".

We understand approximately 5500 sheep have died in appalling conditions however real numbers may never be released.

Warren Truss, Minister for Agriculture said..

"We make no apologies for the fact that the negotiations have been undertaken largely in secret"

What is the real cost of this debacle to the taxpayer?

How long has the taxpayer of Australia been supporting this appalling trade? A trade which sees the main beneficiaries the EXPORTERS getting wealthier.

A trade which sees thousands of animals suffer and die on these death ships. Those who survive face a painful slow death by cruel and inhumane religious slaughter methods.

The Cormo Express is yet ANOTHER example of appalling mismanagement by the industry and Government with an eventual cost to the country of $10 million.

How much of that $10 million will the taxpayer fund?

Sheep of Fools article in The Bulletin Newspaper

Vroon B.V. are the owners of the Cormo Express
Click here to see a list of their ships and how they are "presented" (but we've seen the reality of it !)


  • Dutch owned ship MV Cormo Express departed Fremantle , Western Australia on August 5, 2003 , loaded with 57,000 sheep destined for the port of Jeddah in the Red Sea , Saudi Arabia .

  • After a voyage of approximately16 days, arriving around August 22, Saudi Government veterinarians rejected the shipment, maintaining that the level of the disease 'Scabby Mouth' was higher than 5%. A bilateral agreement with Saudi Arabia allows only 5% of sheep in any shipment to be infected with scabby mouth, an infection that causes lesions in the sheep's mouth. It can infect human handlers of infected sheep.

  • There is no air flow due to the ship being 'closed sided'. Questions arise as to whether the desalinisation plant for drinking water, the ventilation and extraction plants that provide fresh air and the extraction of foul, air are in fact working.

  • On August 23-24 th the Cormo Express visited Aqaba port in Jordan , and was advised that because the ship had already called into another country, Jordan would not accept the sheep or allow the sheep to be off loaded.

  • The Como Express was again anchored in Jeddah Harbour , 28 August, whilst high level talks were held between an Australian delegation and the Saudi Authorities. Permission was again refused on the basis of the scabby mouth. The Saudis refused to amend their assessment of the number of sheep infected. The ship loaded fodder to last two weeks and left Jeddah.

  • Rejection again by United Arab Emirates in early September, but permission was granted to load fodder and left UAE 11 September 2003. The ship spent some time sailing the north of the Arabian Sea to seek better weather conditions.

  • Cormo Express and the remaining (approx) 53,000 sheep are still aboard without a secure future. No country willing to take the animals. 
  • The ship and the LIVING cargo are still in an unknown Middle East port, in the UAE loading fodder: (pellets).

  • The sheep are at a greater risk of heat stress as this fully enclosed ship's ventilation system requires movement to operate at its peak. At present: temp 36 degrees, humidity 89% with no wind.

  • The talks between Pakistan and Australia have apparently not resulted in the sheep being accepted.

  • To date: at least 6.3% of the sheep or 3951 have died. (Confirmed by industry sources several days ago).

  • About this date 142 sheep died during the stopover.

  • An industry-appointed Australian Veterinarian and an Australian Livestock Officer (nominated by Livecorp) and 54 crew are on board.

  • Pakistan has turned down the offer as of 23 September 2003 .

  • Warren Truss states negations are still continuing with other countries and not all were in the Middle East .

  • September 23 Rd is the 49 th day the animals have been on the ship since loading on August 5 th .

  • Fears are rising that the ship will soon run out of fodder for the 50,000 odd sheep still aboard after United Arab Emirates refused permission for the ship to berth in the port to reload.

  • Late September Australian Government purchases the sheep on behalf of the live export industry for A$4.5 million

  • Cormo Express arrives near the port of Basra in Iraq 27/28 September. The shipment is declined by the UK and US army commanders siting concerns over resources required to care for the animals and distribution problems.

  • An increase of heat and humidity in the port sees the ship leaving the port in an effort to reduce the stress on the sheep.

  • Announcements by Warren Truss stating that the "co-regulatory system" whereby control is shared between the industry's own peak body, the LiveCorp, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority would be abandoned. Extract from

  • Warren Truss, Federal Minister of Agriculture announces, September 30, the sheep may be bought back to Australia .

  • A small taskforce including Gardiner Murray Australia 's Chief Veterinary Officer travel to the Middle East to help in negotiations and assess discharge, stockyard and slaughter facilities at any Middle East port that may accept the sheep.

  • October 2; WORLD FARM ANIMALS DAY Demonstrations and protests are held around the world ( Australia , Korea , and UK Europe) against the live animal trade and to show respect and concern for the sheep still on board the Cormo Express . A silent vigil is held in Scarborough WA  

  • October 4 WORLD ANIMALS DAY Today sees a march through Perth City by animal lovers in dedication to all animals.  

  • Estimations are that at least 5000 sheep have died with approximately 50 more dying everyday due to heat stress.

  • LiveCorp and the Australian Government are still to find a buyer.

  • Ministers of Agriculture agreed on October 2 nd to support the establishment of an independent review of the live export industry. 
  • October 6 Cormo Express due to leave Kuwait after reloading fodder and water supplies.

  • Prime Minister John Howard has said that the sheep will probably return to Australia .

  • No deal has yet been struck between Iraq , Afghanistan and Australia.

  • Federal Govt has set October 7 as the deadline to decide if the sheep will return to Australia .

  • Departure delayed by fire on the Cormo Express. As the ship is in a port in Kuwait loading fodder and supplies a fire breaks out which is thought to be caused by a build up of static electricity.

  • October 9. PM rules out 'slaughter at sea' for the remaining 50,000 sheep aboard the Cormo Express. The ship is still in port in Kuwait .

  • October 10. Mr Howard and Cabinet decide to bring the sheep back to Australia , provided a buyer cannot be found prior to arriving in Australia .

  • Machinery breakdown delays the departure for the second time. The ship still in a port in Kuwait will sit in sweltering heat with it's cargo of 50,000 live sheep.

  • October 11 RSPCA set to boycott any new inquiry into the trade. Hugh Wirth, RSPCA national president, states that "If he (Agriculture Minister Warren Truss) thinks that we are going to waste out time and money by participating in another inquiry then the Government has another think coming."

  • October 13. Departure delayed AGAIN as 50,000 or so unwanted sheep still on board the Cormo Express are forced to remain in temperatures reaching 40 deg because of loading problems.

  • 14 October sees pressure rising for the Federal Government over plans to bring the sheep home.

  • October 15. Cormo Express STILL in Kuwait . Expected to leave tomorrow. No real explanation given as to the delay except to say that low tides prohibit their departure!

  • Indications are that negotiations are underway with African countries in a bid to off load the sheep and avoid bringing the animals' home.

  • October 17. Death ship, the Cormo Express left Kuwait last night destined for Cocos Island . The sheep will undergo a "very very elaborate and careful quarantine inspection" Mr Howard said.

  • October 18. The remaining sheep aboard the 'ship of death' Cormo Express is finally heading home. The trade minister was sent to the Middle East in an effort to find another market but has failed. Australia insists the animals are healthy. Farming interests fear they may have contracted diseases!

  • Continual delays in the departure of the Cormo Express have resulted in the remaining sheep standing in their own excrement and urine for 74 days. There are no accurate figures as to how many sheep are still actually alive. A figure will not be available until the animals are offloaded and a full count is undertaken. The sheep pens have not been fully cleaned since leaving Fremantle August 5 2003 .

  • 21 October. US Animal Rights advocates People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals held a protest outside the Australian Embassy in Washington DC . The protestors, one dressed in a sheep costume, held the noisy demonstration to highlight and condemn Australia 's treatment of sheep on the Cormo Express.

  • October 24th.  At 4.30 pm, off loading of the ill fated Cormo Express began.  This process will take 3 days and the sheep will then be taken by road another 58 ks inland to feedlots near Asmara.

Australia has paid Eritrea $1 million plus 3000 tonnes of fodder to take the sheep. This is above the already massive bill of $10 million cost to the Australian public.

Official figures state well over 5000 sheep have died, however animal welfare sources place the real sheep deaths at far greater numbers. In fact, we are led to believe that hundreds if not thousands more have died and were disposed of at sea before the vessel was tied up at the port of Massawa, in Eritrea.  

The final fate of the Australian sheep who have been through hell, is yet unknown. Some believe the animals will be slaughtered and sold in Eritrea, others say that they will be transported farther on, to other countries. Whatever lays before them, it will not be pleasant. Death in these countries is by having your throat slit while fully conscious, no pre stunning here. Our only hope is that the slaughterman use sharp knives to help the dying animals go as fast as possible.