Truck driver at a loss to explain death of 16 polo ponies on Spirit of Tasmania trip

Truck driver at a loss to explain death of 16 polo ponies on Spirit of Tasmania trip

Truck driver at a loss to explain death of 16 polo ponies on Spirit of Tasmania trip

Updated 9 February 2018, 16:15 AEDT

An associate of the owner of 16 polo ponies that were found dead an hour after a trip across the Bass Strait says the truck carrying the horses was well ventilated.

The truck carrying 16 polo ponies that were found dead an hour after a trip across Bass Strait was well ventilated, according to an associate owner of the Polo Club involved.

He also said the truck, which had travelled on the Spirit of Tasmania, had the capacity to carry more horses.

The ponies, from the Willo Polo Club in New South Wales, were being transported back from an event at the Barnbougle Polo Club in north east Tasmania

Club owner Andrew Williams, a former captain of the Australian national team, was driving the truck carrying the ponies and boarded the ferry on January 28 which arrived in Melbourne the next day.

"I saw 18 healthy horses on my truck just before departure in Tasmania," Mr Williams said.

"An hour after leaving the boat in Melbourne I discovered 16 of them were dead and cold."

An associate of Mr Williams, Paul Banks, said answers were needed as "it was a warm night … Andrew's done this trip 11 times, 11 times in the same truck, so it's a bit of a mystery."

He said the truck had the capacity to carry more than 18 horses.

"The horses were well ventilated from the truck's point of view so it does have vents etc."

"There were two trucks on that boat and they were in different areas but they're just requiring answers and I suppose they will come once autopsies are done," Mr Banks said.

In a statement, the owner of Barnbougle Polo where the ponies competed on January 20, expressed the club's condolences to "all involved".

"Especially Andrew Williams and the Willo Polo team — they loved those horses like children," Richard Sattler said.

"Sunday afternoon the horses left Barnbougle looking relaxed and well after having a week to rest post-polo."

Mr Sattler said the annual tournament had become a "great event for northern Tasmania … embraced by all sponsors including the Spirit of Tasmania".

This is truly a tragic loss and our thoughts are with all involved."

In-transit checks on animals normally not allowed

Post-mortem tests are being carried out by the Wagga Equine Hospital but it is not clear when they will be finalised or if the results will be made public.

An investigation involving three states is underway.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said while investigations were continuing the ship appeared to have complied with requirements relating to the carriage of livestock.

Mr Banks said he was not sure if Mr Williams checked on the horses during the sea voyage and he said he was not aware what policy the Spirit of Tasmania had with regards to allowing checks on livestock.

A spokesman for the Spirit of Tasmania said for safety and security reasons passengers were not allowed on to the vehicle decks to check livestock during the voyage.

However he said under special circumstances, for example if veterinary care was needed, permission could be granted.

But if there were safety and security issues the TT Line had the right to refuse such a request.

Tasmanian horse racing journalist Peter Staples said the deaths of the horses was tragic but he had no hesitation about using the Spirit of Tasmania to transport horses.

"The line's been bringing horses into the state since 1985 ... no deaths that I'm aware of."

Mr Williams is seeking answers and had employed a legal team.

Shattered by the loss of his ponies he said: "They are my lifeline, my income and my best friends."