It has since sparked calls for it never to happen off New Zealand shores.
About 14,000 sheep and 2000 cattle boarded the MV Bahijah 29 days ago, en route to the Middle East from Perth’s Fremantle Harbour.
But two weeks into its journey, Australia’s federal government ordered it to turn around due to ongoing disruptions caused by the Iran-backed Houthis of Yemen.
On Saturday, the ship returned to Fremantle and the government stepped in.
“There should be no doubt that Australia’s biosecurity and the health and welfare of the livestock on board are our highest priorities,” said Adam Fennessy, secretary of the Australian Agriculture Department.
“The vessel is taking on further provisions today, including additional fodder and fuel.”
Local animal rights activists have demanded action – and fast.
“Potential heat stress, poor ventilation, standing in their own waste. They’d be extremely stressed,” said Rebecca Tapp, spokesperson for Stop Live Exports.
“We’d like to see them taken off the ship and processed here in Western Australia. Leaving them on there any longer, and certainly the idea of sending them back to sea for 33 days, is inhumane,” Tapp added.
“We’ve been asking the state government, federal government, what the plan is. It appears, at the moment, there is no coherent plan,” said Ben Cave, chief executive of Western Australia’s RSPCA. “We would certainly hope there is, very quickly.”
The animals’ future is uncertain, as is New Zealand’s stance on the practice of live exports.
Similar conditions faced by livestock leaving New Zealand shores ultimately forced the last Government to ban the practice. Livestock exports by air freight are still permitted.
As recently as last April, National was vowing to reverse the ban. The party pledged New Zealand’s livestock would receive gold-standard conditions.
Newshub approached Associate Agriculture Minister Andrew Hoggard about the topic on Saturday.
He wasn’t able to provide a statement but said the new Government is still looking at repealing the live export ban.
“This is as bad as it gets,” said Debra Ashton, chief executive of SAFE.
“All eyes are on Australia at the moment but, if this Government overturns the bans on live export, all eyes will be back on New Zealand for all the wrong reasons,” she told Newshub.
While Western Australia’s livestock wait for a resolution, Aotearoa waits for details on how the Government will prevent livestock facing the same fate.