Livestock aboard a vessel anchored off the Western Australian coast could be shipped back to the Middle East after previously being ordered to return to Australia.
The MV Bahijah, ordered to return from the Middle East almost a fortnight ago amid rising tensions in the Red Sea, has been at anchor off the WA coast since Monday afternoon with no confirmed docking time yet.
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry are yet to provide details on the next steps for the returned animals, although the exporter plans to unload some animals in Australia prior to re-exporting the remaining animals on board the vessel.
A DAFF statement said the department was assessing the exporter's application "as a priority, including working closely with our trading partners to ensure any decision to re-export the animals would be supported by the intended market".
The vessel, owned by Israeli company Basem Dabbah, had loaded cattle and sheep in Fremantle, Western Australia and departed for Jordan on January 5 but diverted from course because of the risks posed by Houthi pirates in the Red Sea.
DAFF has confirmed that daily reports from the exporter's registered veterinarian on board the vessel indicate there are no signs of any significant health or welfare concerns with the livestock on board.
"The department is currently assessing the feasibility of an additional independent veterinarian attending the vessel to provide further assurance," the statement read.
A spokesman from Fremantle Ports said that they were still awaiting instruction from DAFF and the exporter regarding the ship.
In the meantime, another live export vessel Jawan was on Wednesday loading sheep and cattle at the berth which the MV Bahijah would need to use when entering the harbour.
The Jawan was expected to leave the harbour on Thursday.
The stalemate over what happens next for the livestock aboard the MV Bahijah is drawing criticism, with anti-live export protesters gathering at the port on Tuesday afternoon.
Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie is among those who have slammed the management of the vessel's return.
"The vessel is currently stuck in limbo off Western Australia carrying thousands of sheep and cattle that have endured weeks of inhumane conditions after being sent back to Australia from the Red Sea due to security concerns," he said.
"Moreover, as a likely Houthi target, the exporter, Dabbah Shipping, should have never been granted a permit to begin with.
"This decision by the regulator is completely inexcusable. "
Australian Livestock Exporters' Council CEO Mark Harvey-Sutton said it would be in the best interests of all parties for the Department of Agriculture to finalise their decision about what would happen with the consignment as quickly as possible.
"The exporter involved is not a member of ALEC but we have been communicating with them," he said.
"We understand that the animal welfare conditions on board are all very good and that has been verified by the Department of Agriculture.
"It is very disappointing that those that have an ambition to see the trade end are deliberately misrepresenting the conditions on board the vessel."
Mr Harvey-Sutton said the biosecurity risks could be managed if the animals were discharged as the ship had not docked in any other port or picked up any fodder.
Fremantle mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge described the situation as "very disturbing" and said the welfare of the livestock must be of the utmost priority.
"The return of the MV Bahijah will have flow-on effects in our local community, including for local residents, businesses and tourism operators," she said.
"We urge the operators and the federal government to find a resolution to this situation soon."