Two months after failed voyage, 14,500 Australian livestock sail again for Israel

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Around 14,500 livestock sailed from Australia to Israel on Sunday for the second time, two months after their first voyage was curtailed by the threat of attack by Houthi militants in the Red Sea.

The animals left Fremantle port in Perth on Jan. 5 but halfway to the Middle East, their ship abandoned its route and was ordered home by the Australian government.

The turn-back was part of the havoc wrought by the Houthi strikes in support of Hamas militants in Palestine that have forced shippers to re-route to longer and more expensive journeys around southern Africa.

The livestock endured weeks of limbo aboard the vessel and, since disembarking in mid-February, in holding facilities on land, where Australia's biosecurity laws require they must be quarantined.

Activists and some politicians branded the animals' treatment as torture and demanded a swift end to the live sheep trade, but the government and industry say they have been in good condition and health.

The agriculture ministry said in mid-February that four cattle and 64 sheep had died on board the Bahijah since it set sail on Jan. 5 but that these were below reportable mortality levels.

The livestock were loaded onto the same ship they first sailed on, the MV Bahijah, over the weekend and left Fremantle on Sunday, said Geoff Pearson, the head of livestock at farm group WAFarmers.

He said around 14,000 sheep and 500 cattle were on board and the remaining cattle would be exported on other ships in the coming weeks.

The agriculture ministry said it had approved the shipment.

"The exporter intends to transport the livestock to Israel without passing through the Red Sea," it said in a statement.

The route from Australia around Africa to Israel takes around 33 days, industry figures say.

Reuters has been unable to contact the exporter, Bassem Dabbah. The ship's manager, Korkyra Shipping, has not responded to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Peter Hobson; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)