The federal government has refused an exemption to its live export ban that would have allowed 56,000 sheep to be transported to the Middle East, and they will now be slaughtered in Western Australia.
The Al Kuwait vessel docked in Fremantle on May 22 was to take the sheep, but when crew members began testing positive to COVID-19 it left the ship stranded and the livestock in limbo at a feedlot.
The Department of Agriculture said it considered animal welfare and trade implications before denying Rural Export and Trading WA an exemption to its northern summer live export ban, which began on Monday, and reasons would be given this week.
"The livestock that was to be exported in this consignment remain at registered premises and ... there are no welfare concerns," the department said.
WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said she presumed a rational decision had been made based significantly on weather analysis.
"This has not been a problem of Australia's making," she told reporters on Wednesday.
"While some people will be a bit grumpy about this, I'm sure that in the long run it is ensuring that we don't have another disaster."
Ms MacTiernan said the sheep would go to local processors and conceded the price of lamb could fall, but it would be modest.
RETWA managing director Mike Gordon said the decision would have significant trade ramifications.
"Animal welfare is always our top priority," he said.
"We believe the department's risk appetite is unrealistic and over-cautious."
WA Health Minister Roger Cook said it was not an optimal outcome.
"Sheep travelling in the harsh conditions of the northern summer wouldn't be a great outcome for them either," he said.
"We are just working with what we've got."
WAFarmers livestock president David Slade said the industry had worked hard for a resolution after government authorities "entirely mishandled" the situation, but were left frustrated and disappointed.
Mr Slade said it was obvious regulators had no intention of ever granting the exemption.
"Given the major advances to animal welfare conditions onboard live export vessels, it is extremely clear there are hidden agendas at play."
Australian Livestock Exporters' Council chief executive Mark Harvey-Sutton said an appeal was unlikely.
RSPCA Australia senior policy officer Jed Goodfellow said the government made the right decision.
"Granting an exemption and sending Australian sheep to that fate would have completely undermined the integrity of the new laws and rocked public confidence in the regulator."
The northern summer ban was sparked by thousands of sheep dying from heat stress aboard the Awassi Express in 2017.
Almost half of the 48 crew on the Al Kuwait have coronavirus and the ship cannot leave before June 13.
WA has recorded one new coronavirus case after a man in his 30s, who travelled overseas and is in quarantine, tested positive.
Australian Associated Press