Live export fatalities: the perils of transporting live animals

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The recent Suez Canal blockage reminds us of the dangers of live export for everyone involved in the trade. While the backlog has since cleared, at the time of the incident there were approximately 20 livestock vessels carrying around 200,000 animals, adding at least a week to an already long and arduous journey.

When we take a closer look at the live export industry, we see a perilous trade that has resulted in human and animal fatalities. Over the past 10 years alone, thousands of animals have died while being exported, along with many crew members.

Live export tragedies – a regular occurrence

The recent tragedy in which 2,500 bulls were trapped at sea is still fresh in our minds. Two Spanish vessels – Elbeik and Karim Allah – spent the best part of 3 months at sea.

Turkey was the original destination country. However, on arrival the ships were denied entry due to problems with the paperwork around bovine bluetounge and suspicions the animals may be at risk of disease.

Eventually, Spain agreed to take the animals back. Sadly, a substantial number of young bulls were killed straight after docking. It’s possible that some of the surviving ones were resold.

Understandably, the young bulls on both ships suffered immensely while stranded at sea, and many died before returning to Spain.

What are the known risks?

14,600 sheep died aboard Romanian vessel the Queen Hind in 2019. Image Source: Splash 247

According to a Guardian report, ships carrying live animals are at least twice as likely to suffer a “total loss” from sinking or grounding as standard cargo vessels.

It seems there are a number of factors that cause livestock vessels to be more vulnerable than standard cargo carriers.

Livestock carriers tend to be older vessels. Because the carriers are older, they are more likely to be in a poor-state of repair, with issues such as rust and corrosion.

Also, the majority of vessels were not built to carry animals, they have simply been repurposed to do so. How can animals be safely transported on a long journey in an old container ship or oil tanker?

Once animals have been a sea for a few days, they have to contend with a build-up of manure and urine. This makes the floor surface extremely slippery and potentially dangerous as well as adding to the high humidity. Animals can suffer from motion sickness, anxiety and respiratory illness, as well as broken limbs and other injuries.

Imagine a ship carrying thousands of young bulls (some just four or five months old) with motion sickness, or a vessel en route from Ireland to Libya enduring extreme weather. These factors create a potentially hazardous situation for everyone on board.

Thousands of fatalities
  • 2021: Elbeik and Karim Allah – 2,500 bulls slaughtered (some animals also died onboard).
  • 2020: MV Gulf Livestock 1 – 5,867 dairy cows and 41 people died
  • 2019: Queen Hind – 14,600 sheep died
  • 2015: Haidar – approx 5,000 cows died
  • 2009: Danny F II – 11 people died and 32 missing. 10,274 sheep and 17,932 cows died.

What is clear from this list is that the live export industry has been responsible for major tragedies. The question remains, how many people and animals have to die before live exports is banned?

The future of live exports

You might have heard of New Zealand’s decision to ban live exports in recent news. This comes in the wake of the MV Gulf Livestock 1 tragedy in 2020. We hope that this is the start of a ripple effect and other countries eventually follow suit.

We can collectively come together to support a ban on this brutal and archaic trade. Contact the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue, as well as your local TDs to voice your opposition.

If even one tragedy is one too many, then the only course of action is to ban live exports.

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