Behind-the-scenes agitation by animal activists delayed a decision on whether to re-export livestock stranded on the MV Bahijah, while they were publicly calling on authorities to immediately off-load the sheep and cattle.
The revelations were made in a public statement of reasons for rejecting a re-export application for a proposed record 65-day journey to ship the livestock to Israel, released by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry at 5.50pm on Friday.
The statement said that while DAFF took eight days to make a decision, while under intense public scrutiny and criticism, it said the delay was partly caused by the department being bombarded with information from Animals Australia and Israeli animal rights groups Let the Animals Live and Animals Now.
The Israeli groups had also filed a court injunction in Israel seeking to prevent the sheep and cattle from being imported into that country.
According to the report, Animals Australia appeared to operate as an uninvited intermediary, feeding the Australian government numerous legal updates on behalf of its Israeli counterparts.
In a long and detailed statement, DAFF Acting First Assistant Secretary Andrew McDonald said a "stream of information" was received from the official Israeli competent authority and animal welfare organisations, including developments in relation to the court proceedings, animal welfare and the application to re-export via the Cape of Good Hope.
"It is regrettable that this has meant that despite my and the department's best efforts, it was not possible to make a decision earlier," he wrote.
"The expediency and manner of interactions with the department and other authorities can have a real and detrimental impact on a decision maker's ability to make a timely decision in the interests of best achieving the objects of the Act.
"I also noted the media attention and that various animal welfare organisations had made submissions opposing the re-export of the livestock. I gave some weight to these submissions to the extent that they represented the opinions of a part of the community."
In making the decision to reject the re-export application, Mr McDonald said he was satisfied that the long haul management plan provided by the exporter "would mitigate the risks to animal welfare from the proposed extended long-haul voyage" and gave weight to the fact an experienced veterinarian would be onboard for the entire journey.
However, he "gave more weight" to the concerns Israeli authorities expressed about the passage of time and its preference for the livestock to be offloaded and spelled before re-export.
Mr McDonald said the risk remained that animal welfare incidents "might appear" when the livestock were moved to quarantine upon arrival in Israel, "despite having been deemed fit for extended transportation."
"While I thought that this risk could be managed by the approved extended long-haul management plan, on balance and weighing everything before me, I considered that the risk that the Israeli competent authority may not be able to grant the import permits or otherwise accept the livestock upon arrival, outweighed the mitigation strategies that had been identified.
"I found that this updated information, coupled with the uncertainty of the injunction proceedings in Israel, meant that I was unable to be satisfied that import permits were likely to be issued before the livestock reached Israel."
FarmOnline reported earlier this week that the application seeking to re-export was rejected but the department did not reveal the reasons why at the time.
The MV Bahijah, owned and operated by Israeli company Dabbah Livestock, berthed in Fremantle Port two weeks ago after 25 days at sea to take on fresh feed and other supplies. None of the approximately 14,000 sheep and 2,000 cattle aboard the vessel were unloaded at that time.
It had first departed Fremantle on January 5 but abandoned that voyage due to the risk of violence by Houthis militants targeting commercial vessels in the Red Sea channel.
Meanwhile, besides the Animals Australia activity, the RSPCA demanded that DAFF intervene using powers under the Export Control Act to stop re-exporting and activist group Stop Live Exports held a protest at Fremantle Port.
The agitation of activists continued despite an independent welfare assessment that there were no health and welfare concerns onboard - directly countering social media and media reports driven by animal activist groups there were thousands of sick animals on board.
The misinformation campaign so frustrated authorities that a DAFF spokesperson took the extraordinary step of correcting the narrative, saying that "contrary to public reports, no livestock are required to be offloaded for health reasons."
At the same time the exporter was making several last-minute adjustments to further enhance animal welfare quality to enhance the re-export application, including later unloading hundreds of cattle to clear pen space for the remaining animals.
They also applied to off-load all the animals yesterday.
The public statement of reasons detailed several instances of Animals Australia contacting the department during the investigation over several weeks.
Meanwhile, it is telling that Mr McDonald isolated a submission from Animals Australia for special mention in the report that imagined a scenario where the animals could feasibly be rejected by Israel, "which may result in an incident like the MV Cormo Express in 2003."
In that incident, 47,000 sheep in the consignment were rejected by the importing country and spent another further two months at sea being moved around the Persian Gulf before being donated to the poor African nation of Eritrea where a makeshift abattoir was made for slaughter.
"I accepted that the consequences for animal welfare of such an incident would be significant," Mr McDonald said.
"I considered the letter from two Israeli animal welfare organisations to an Israeli Minister. The letter raised animal welfare and public health concerns, and requested that the Israeli Minister refuse to grant import permits for the animals onboard the MV Bahijah.
"I noted that these organisations had a recent history of challenging Israeli government decisions and it was therefore foreseeable that they may legally challenge any import permits, should they be issued, which would cast further doubt as to whether the animals would be permitted to enter Israel."