Two livestock ships were refused entry to multiple countries after leaving Spain in December due to alleged presence of the bovine disease bluetongue on board. The Karim Allah is carrying a reported 895 calves, and the Elbeik is carrying 1,776 animals.
The Guardian says that official veterinary inspections of both ships had been due to take place late last week in Cyprus and Sardinia, but neither ship approached shore to allow vets on board. Now in an update, Reuters reports that the Karim Allah struggled to get supplies, and as a result the animals onboard went "several days" without food. The ship is now reported to be moored at Cartagena’s Escombreras dock, and the Elbeik is moored off the Turkish Cypriot port of Famagusta.
The fate of the animals is unknown, but they have had been at sea for more than 60 days so no-one has any idea how or if they have been getting any food or if there are any still left alive. There’s no doubt that, if still alive, they have endured months of suffering. And unlike the similar Cormo Express disaster, these animals will not have had a veterinarian onboard to make appropriate judgement calls on euthanasia.
The ElBeik’s voyage
18 December Leaves Tarragona, Spain
29 December Arrives in Derince, Turkey, leaves on 1 January
25 January Arrives in Tripoli, Libya
1 February Arrives in Alexandria, Egypt, leaves on 4 February
19 February Off the coast of Cyprus, near Famagusta
The Karim Allah’s voyage
18 December Leaves Cartagena, Spain
27 December Arrives in İskenderun, Turkey, leaves on 1 January
6 January Arrives in Tripoli, Libya, leaves on 9 January
27 January Arrives in Augusta, Italy, leaves 29 January
19 February Reaches waters near Cagliari, Sardinia
22 February Arrives back at Cartagena
The annual cost of departmental employees who now oversee the live ex industry has risen to $15 million. The new computer system required to run this woeful industry will cost $222.2 million so now the Government is finally asking 19 businesses to pay! 19 businesses in Australia being propped up to this extent! And the exporter response to the Australian government’s plan to recoup the costs of certifying and regulating the live export industry: “Our competitiveness is being shot to pieces”!
Beef Central reports that since the Awassi Express controversy in 2018, the Federal Government has expanded the amount of resourcing it needs to regulate the industry. Annual license fees are set to increase from $25,000 to $106,551, approved arrangement fees for sea shipments from $20,000 to $85,241, and the cost to register an export premises will increase from $5,000 to $21,311, reports Beef Central.
The Awassi Express controversy is just one of countless animal welfare tragedies that has shocked the nation. This is an industry which has consistently shown that self-regulation does not provide adequate animal welfare, or indeed crew welfare, outcomes. Yet, the 19 licenced exporters operating at the moment expect the Department to “streamline their regulatory processes.”
Really? AMSA has already decided to step up its regulation of the industry after recent tragedies such as the loss of the Gulf Livestock 1 and the danger to the crew posed by the unseaworthy Barkly Pearl, and VALE welcomes the Department’s move to recoup its losses as it tries to improve the performance of the trade. What other business gets this level of taxpayer subsidy? It is time to stop pandering to an industry that repeatedly endangers crews and cargo when it could readily be replaced by Australia’s boxed meat trade.
Splash 24/7 reports that the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) will carry out a focused inspection campaign (FIC) on livestock ships from March 1 to August 31. The campaign will target every livestock ship departing Australian ports.
Livestock ships are one of the oldest category of merchant ships and have been plagued by severe safety issues in recent years. Amongst other incidents there has been the Jawan wobbling wildly out of Portland, the loss of Gulf Livestock-1 (carrying NZ cattle but a regular export ship from Australia before that) and the Barkly Pearl with such concerning issues it was banned from Australian waters for 2 years. On top of that, according to Neale Prior of the West Australian, Emanuel Export's legal team have just claimed that their former director provided "questionable" pen air turnover details for the infamous Awassi Express in 2014 albeit not in his capacity as a director for Emanuel Export. It seems as though AMSA has said "enough is enough".
The new Australian campaign will look closely at the maintenance and repair requirements of livestock ships in relation to international conventions as well as the ships crews’ familiarity with determining the ship’s stability and the use of accurate information for the livestock cargo carried when calculating stability.
Once AMSA start going over these ships with a fine tooth comb, watch this space....
Indonesia is rethinking supply as Australian live export prices rise.In an editorial published by Beef Central, Dr Ross Ainsworth notes that Indonesia is concerned by the sudden rise in Australia’s live cattle prices and may consider Mexico as an alternative source of animals.
He notes the potential cost, logistics and bureaucratic hurdles (but not significant negative welfare implications!) associated with the idea and says that Indonesia is also planning to buy beef from Australia and Brazil and water buffalo from India to “plug the supply gap.”
Unbelievable, that any country would go to such lengths to get live animals when clearly it is more than feasible to plug a "supply gap" with Australian beef. As VALE has always said - if they really needed protein, they would buy it as meat not animals. And if Australia was savvy, they would be looking to send various competitive beef cuts to Indonesia rather than losing their place in the Indonesian market - an all round win win!
Beef Central reports that Australian stock handlers and veterinarians working on live export vessels are unable to secure basic health insurance for their voyages. A large number of stockpersons and most veterinarians are hired for voyages as independent contractors, not as export company employees, and are required to secure their own personal insurance for voyages. However, with Covid and the recent loss of the Gulf Livestock 1, insurance companies are not prepared to take on the risk: Covid and the recent vessel sinking.
The insurance issue comes at a time when accredited stockpersons and veterinarians are in short supply anyhow due to COVID quarantine restrictions - now they cant fly home, they all have to endure the stultifying boredom of return trips on an empty livestock ship (not exactly luxury cruise vessels) AND then potentially have Covid quarantine in a hotel when they get back. Hardly enticing conditions.
Could Covid achieve what decades of advocacy have failed to achieve???
VALE reported on the banning of the Barkly Pearl for 2 years a week ago. Beef Central ran the story on 13th Jan and provided extra details purportedly from AMSA: "The ship had known about the hole for close to 10 days before we heard about it.....If people try to hide things from us and if they unreasonably put people’s lives at risk and unreasonably put the environment at risk, we will not tolerate that. That was what happened here, it was a significant issue and we know for a fact that some of the seafarers on board that ship were in fear of their safety."
Interestingly, the Barkly Pearl was used as an example of "world's highest standards" of shipping in an article by Beef Central only 3 months ago. The detailed interview response from the ship's owner makes interesting reading!
Ross Carter was reappointed as the Inspector-General of Live Animal Exports (IGLAE) commencing 11 December 2020. On 18 December Carter released a report on the Implementation of Moss Review recommendations..and despite much procedural jargon they are actually pretty damning. He found:
1. the department’s IT systems do not support efficient operations or provide for streamlined industry interaction. They also do not effectively support data and intelligence analytics to target regulatory effort and contribute to the body of knowledge on risk mitigation to animal health and welfare.
2. the dispersed functional model of the department presents a major challenge to delivering an integrated regulatory model.
3. the department needs to improve compliance monitoring and using a proportionate response model to address poor performance.
“The department appears to determine the severity of an individual non-compliance in isolation from other factors. This is a reductive approach that risks not correcting underlying and ongoing unacceptable performance.”
It should be noted that VALE used the June 2020 Al Kuwait exemptions to illustrate the importance in regulatory practice of considering broader community trust and confidence (minimal) in its submission. It was interesting that Ross Carter chose to also use this voyage for the same purpose.
"Mortality rates ..remain the primary indicator of animal health and welfare....but not an indicator of individual animal health and welfare across a consignment."
"Transparency and access to the results of research will help underpin the credibility" SO....where is the study on rumen loggers performed by Murdoch University and reported as completed by Norman in various Shipboard Performance reports??
"The inspector general has not been provided with evidence of improvements to the compliance monitoring approach" [re Moss Recommendation 7]...[this] does not provide confidence in its agility ...and casts doubt on the departments capacity..."
"Despite a long history of significant incidents and events..the department has not put in place and effective proportionate regulatory model that includes strong enforcement action"
"The inspector general is concerned that the full intent and potential of the Principal Regulatory Officer has been reduced from the department's original intent"
"The department has not provided rgulatory process mapping in response to data requests"
"The department should continue to look for opportunities to further increase transparency and accessibility" (7 applications and 6 months for VALE to get one FOI document that showed Dept cover-ups gives little evidence of improved transparency)
"The Awassi Express incident was viewed...as an egregious failure to ensure appropriate animal health and welfare outcomes during an export voyage"
Re regulation "the senior executive have chosen a largely functional structural model [whatever that is]....However, it is a model that best works where the regulatory schemes it supports are at a mature standard of practice. For livestock animal exports this is not the case."
"It appears that the department is not sufficiently agile to take the multidisciplinary approach required"
Re Al Kuwait exemption "The voyage recorded a low mortality rate but a significant number of sheep suffered from heat stress in the later stage."....."mortality rate of 0.08% (28 sheep) ... (noting a 155 negative head count discrepancy. The heat stress scores observed ..appear to confirm that exporting sheep to the Middle East during the northern summer prohibition period results in a poor animal health and welfare outcome for many of the animals despite the additional risk mitigations undertaken by the exporter"
AMSA has issued its most severe banning to date - to a livestock carrier - banning the Barkly Pearl from entering or using an Australia port for 24 months.
"This is a significant decision by AMSA. It’s the first time a vessel has been banned from Australian ports for this length of time and it will certainly affect the vessel’s commercial operations... The owners and operators of the Barkly Pearl were negligent in their maintenance of the vessel, put the lives of the seafarers on board at risk and posed an immediate threat to Australia’s marine environment."
If only this came as a surprise. Livestock carriers comprise the oldest saltwater fleet and are renowned for detentions and for having a poor safety record. An analysis undertaken last year by The Guardian indicated that livestock carriers are twice as likely to be lost as cargo vessels.
VALE welcomes the move by AMSA. In addition to seafarer and marine environment risk, it would also have been yet another risk to our exported animals.
A media statement by the Maritime Union of Australia has highlighted the COVID danger to Australia involved with the live trade after a confirmed case of COVID on the Diamantina in Darwin. The MUA said vessels continued to dock around Australia inside the 14 day quarantine period imposed on other travellers, while the maritime arrival system remained reliant on a self-declaration system where a ship’s master is responsible for reporting if there are sick crew members on board (hmmm.....yes....think Al Kuwait!).
“Port workers, their families, the Darwin community, and all the vulnerable Indigenous communities in the NT continue to be put at risk because the Federal Government lacks a cohesive and consistent national policy addressing the unique risks posed by maritime supply chains. The current system, which is reliant on international shipowners, driven by profit, self-reporting potential illnesses — knowing that this will cause them costly delays — cannot guarantee the safety of our members or the broader community."
As VALE has repeatedly commented: where this is poor animal health and welfare, there is invariably little respect for human health and welfare.
The Guardian has reported figures from the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) which indicate that 1.8 billion live chickens, pigs, sheep, goats and cattle were moved across borders in 2019. Individual countries tend to specialise in which animal they focus on for export production, and fattening can occur in a different country to production or slaughter.
The risks for the animals include stress during loading and unloading, injury, hunger, thirst and exhaustion, and low slaughter standards.
The OIE’s Terrestrial Animal Health Code states (in several places): “The amount of time animals spend on a journey should be kept to the minimum.” This is a fundamental principle of animal welfare that should not be left to market forces. But with signatories including EU countries (trafficking animals here there and everywhere at multiple life stages) and Australia (pushing live ex as hard as it can), there is clearly an incentive to a selective interpretation of "minimum"!