The Guardian reports that the Spanish administration has issued orders that no livestock carriers destined for Saudi Arabia or Jordan should be loaded until the Suez Canal blockage is cleared. Apparently around 20 ships with animals loaded from Spain and Romania are now caught up in the mess, but Romanian authorities are yet to comment on any action being taken.
Concerns have been raised that food and water supplies could run out on ships depending on their location and how much water and food they have on board. Many of these ships do not have reverse osmosis (RO) for water production and RO cant be used in or near the Canal. Ships in the Canal itself could be particularly vulnerable if delays continue as replenishing with water and food would not be possible in the Canal. There is also concern that the animals will not be allowed ashore anywhere but their planned destination due to commercial and legal concerns not to mention physical logistics.
The situation is just another welfare risk to add to the long list that animals are exposed to by the live export trade. In the last few months there have been cases of capsize, rough seas, delayed voyages, machinery breakdown...
Animals International reports that six fully loaded livestock carriers, recently departed from Spain and Romania, are now waiting to pass through the Suez Canal. There may be others. It is now estimated that it could take weeks to move the large container ship that is currently preventing ships passing through.
Will the animals onboard these six ships face extended times at sea, or will authorities act quickly on their behalf? Action was not taken quickly enough in the case of the cattle on the Karim Allah and the Elbeik. Both vessels spent three months at sea. Many of the young bulls died, and the remainder were considered to have suffered so much that the most humane thing to do was to euthanase them with a veterinarian report confirming that animals were in "a bad general state" with the worst affected, no longer able to open their eyes or respond to stimuli.
Of potentially even more concern is if livestock carriers are actually stuck in the Suez Canal as this could result in issues for ventilation in hot weather (ie no ship movement) eg High Mortality Voyage 39.
No matter how good the intention, it is simply not possible for the live export trade to mitigate the many animal welfare risks associated with transport by sea.
A Northern Territory producer who turns off around 3,500 Brahmans each year for live export to Indonesia has been reported saying that the federal government should see it as “their responsibility to assist an industry like this and keep it in business."
The comment, reported by the North Queensland Register, comes in response to DAWR’s proposed cost increases to cover the regulatory burden the live export industry creates. DAWR reportedly estimates the regulatory cost recovery for 3,500 cattle shipped to Indonesia by sea at $4.38 per head, an estimated 0.38 percent of the consignment's value.
Currently, exporters are only paying for around 25 percent of DAWR’s regulatory expenses.
So should the Government be keeping the industry in business? Here’s just one routine voyage, the 14-day, October 2019 voyage (Independent Observer Report 197) of the Ocean Drover from Townsville to Jakarta and Panjang, where problems were evident from the outset:
- unhealthy cattle were loaded (one with lumpy jaw....another with non weight bearing lameness due to an infected swollen hind fetlock with a MISSING CLAW in breach of Australian Standards (ASEL), as were bulls bleeding because their horns were cut too short
- part of the loading ramp was loosely fastened using baler twine and that some cattle were hit by the flapping walls as they passed .....seriously??
And then matters got worse. Once underway, the observer recorded:
1. “A recumbent cow in the hospital pen with depression, difficulty breathing and nasal/ocular discharge was not offered water and found dead in the same position as filmed 12 hours earlier. Her position indicated a failed attempt to reach water... her head and neck outstretched less than a meter from the water trough.”
2. “Areas became flooded with heavy effluent during discharge in Jakarta Port - challenging for crew and cattle standing in some pens with liquid effluent fetlock deep for over 30 hours.”
3. Animals were not euthanased in a timely fashion
4. No sawdust bedding in the hospital pens despite enough being loaded ....
AND on it went till discharge, where the observer noted several physical hazards and highlighted that there was “indiscriminate use of electric prods on face and body” of the cattle. The electric prods were used on cattle inside the ship and on the ship's unloading ramp, with some cattle down and being trampled at the time. Cattle got their heads or horns stuck in netting on the trucks they were loaded on, with some showing signs of choking.
This is just one voyage. The exporters and producers should be grateful that the Australian Government not only subsidised their industry but even covered up for them - yep it took VALE's FOI documents to expose the true issue. However, there are many more independent observer reports revealing or hinting at the systemic poor animal welfare in this trade (see VALE’s website) all of which which highlight why this industry has to be policed and why the Australian taxpayer should never have to foot that bill.
After around three months sailing the Mediterranean looking for a buyer for the 1,800 cattle on board, the livestock carrier Elbeik has finally been ordered to dock in Spain. The Guardian reports that around 180 of the young bulls are already dead; the remainder are considered to have suffered so much that the most humane thing to do is to euthanase them.
The order to dock in Cartagena comes not long after Spanish authorities slaughtered more than 850 young bulls from the Karim Allah. Like the Elbeik, that ship had also left Spain in mid-December and been refused entry to multiple ports because of fears there was bluetongue onboard.
Why let the animals suffer for months at sea before ordering action to be taken? Is it because both industry and government regulators accept inherent animal cruelty in live export and just wait till public outrage reaches a threshold (think Awassi Express?).
The situation is reminiscent of the 2004 Cormo Express disaster. After this disaster Australia set up MOUs with importing countries to ensure countries couldnt reject the exported animals BUT they werent worth the paper they were written on. In 2012, Ocean Drover had unloading blocked in the Middle East and in the end the sheep were offloaded and brutally slaughtered in Pakistan, a total failure of ESCAS that to this day has not been registered as an ESCAS incident by the Australian Government (22000 sheep.....quite a significant major compliance issue!).
The Guardian reports that: “Campaigners blame the EU for continuing to allow lengthy export journeys for farm animals and failing to manage problems.” Sadly, this is also reminiscent of Australia’s management of the trade.
An article in Queensland Country Life has indicated some in the livestock trade expect Australian taxpayers to pay for regulatory oversight aimed at preventing the animal cruelty that wider society sees as unacceptable.
The Dept of Ag is increasing fees in an attempt to cover the cost of putting more safeguards in place after the public outcry over the horrific death of 2,400 sheep on the Awassi Express. Actually, what society demanded was an end to the inherently cruel live export trade.
The government’s move is not “red tape gone mad,” its “red carpet removed” on an industry that has lost its social license.
The Queensland Country Life article states that farmers are the ones likely to pay the bill though, because it won’t be the exporters or the end market. Are Australian farmers willing to pay what the ones responsible for the cruelty are not?
Surely not. There are viable alternatives to live export, and we should be petitioning the government to invest taxpayers money in assisting the transition away from it.