A ship carrying thousands of sheep and cattle is expected to return to port and could offload its cargo after Australian authorities rejected an application to export the livestock to Israel.
About 16,500 animals have been packed aboard the MV Bahijah since January 5, when it sailed for the Middle East from Western Australia before being ordered to abandon its voyage due to Houthi rebel attacks in the Red Sea.
Except for a couple of hundred head of cattle unloaded on Friday, the animals have remained on the vessel since it returned to Australian waters, sparking fears for their welfare as authorities considered the application to send them on another - even longer - journey for export.
It's expected to return in the coming days to Fremantle Port and it is understood the livestock will be unloaded and moved to a quarantine facility to be rested until another permit is issued to export them.
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry on Monday refused the application to ship them to the Middle East via southern Africa because export control rules had not been complied with and it was not satisfied the animals' health and welfare could be assured on the journey.
It also said the livestock and what happens to them in future were commercial decisions for the exporter and the department was ready to assess a new application.
WA opposition spokesman for agriculture Colin de Grussa accused the federal government of inaction and lack of transparency concerning its decision-making about the ship.
He accused Agriculture Minister Murray Watt of playing politics with the ship, saying he was not concerned about the animals' welfare.
"What better way to fan the flames of discontent and to reignite the debate around live export, than to park thousands of animals off the coast of a major city for weeks on end without a plan," he said.
Animal advocacy groups have repeatedly raised concerns for the health and welfare of the animals due to the length of time they have been on the vessel and the extreme heat Perth has experienced in past weeks.
The department has previously said 51 sheep and four head of cattle have died since they were loaded but this wasn't out of the ordinary given the total number of animals on the ship.
If the animals are re-exported they are likely to be at sea for another month as the MV Bahijah sails around Africa to avoid the Red Sea - an area where Houthi rebels in Yemen have targeted ships heading to Israeli ports.
Animal rights groups have reportedly filed legal proceedings in Israel's Central Region District Court against the nation's agriculture ministry in a bid to stop the ship from exporting its cargo into Israel.
Australian Associated Press