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Spirit of Tasmania to carry horses again after shock freeze threw freight industry into chaos

The Spirit of Tasmania will again carry livestock, the state government has announced, days after shock cancellations threw freight businesses into chaos.

On Friday, a number of transport companies were contacted and told their forward bookings had been cancelled, following Thursday’s court decision in which ferry operator TT-Line was found guilty of breaching animal welfare laws after 16 polo ponies died during a voyage in 2018.

Horse transporters said the decision came without warning and would have “catastrophic” consequences.

Today, Deputy Premier Michael Ferguson said carriage of livestock would resume, effectively immediately for Devonport departures and from tomorrow for Geelong departures.

One person would be employed as part of an “interim arrangement” to “make a judgment on the suitability of transport vehicles and the health of the animals” upon boarding at Devonport and Geelong, Mr Ferguson said.

The additional staff would be on secondment from the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania and work under TT-Line management, with “potentially” more staff added “in the future”.

Mr Ferguson said TT-Line were faced with “very serious legal advice” from what he described as a “curve ball” outcome of the polo ponies court case.

“The judgment has had significant consequences … there is little more I can say due to ongoing court proceedings.”

TT-Line found guilty of 29 breaches of animal welfare act

Last week, TT-Line was found guilty of 29 breaches of the animal welfare act, including that it failed to ensure the horses were individually stalled and to ensure there was adequate ventilation.

The horses were traveling back from a polo event and were found dead inside a converted refrigeration trailer after a Bass Strait crossing between Devonport and Melbourne.

In handing down her decision, Magistrate Leanne Topfer said TT-Line failed to inspect the trailer and solely relied on a declaration made by the trailer’s driver, former Australian polo captain Andrew Williams.

One of two Willo Polo trucks carrying ponies onboard the Spirit Of Tasmania in 2018.(Instagram: chelcroz)

She said it likely led to the unreasonable and unjustifiable pain or suffering of the horses.

“Nothing was done portside or during the voyage to ensure the consignments complied with the conditions of carriage,” she said.

“There was no evidence TT-Line knew anything about Mr Williams or his capacity to determine the adequacy or otherwise of the ventilation.

“[TT-Line] made no independent inquiries as to whether the horses were individually stalled in accordance with the requirements of the regulations.”

TT-Line defense lawyers had argued the company relied upon the written declaration from Mr Williams because he stated the trailer and the way the horses were accommodated complied with regulations.

If he had not provided the declaration, they said the truck would not have been able to board.

Magistrate Topfer adjourned TT-Line’s sentencing to December 21.

Bass Strait ‘part of a national highway’

On Friday, horse transporters and breeders expressed their shock after they were told of the decision.

Chris Mahoney, who runs A1 Horse Transport, said on Friday that he had been taking horses over on the Spirit for the last 35 years.

“This is completely devastating news … my business will have to close after this, there’s no way forward … I am in complete shock,” he said on Friday.

“I am very frustrated, I do understand TT-Line doing this, but we have been carting horses commercially for years and years and have never had an incident.

“It’s not just horses, it’s cattle, sheep, goats, everything … it closes our business, effectively immediately.”

David Whishaw of the Tasbreeders Association said his family had been carting horses across the Bass Strait for three generations, and they had never had an incident.

“We are reliant on horse transport across Bass Strait, it’s part of a national highway,” he said.

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