/ 21 February 2024

End the practice of shipping livestock by sea

Ct Protest Al Kuwait
A protest on the Taliep Petersen Bridge on Nelson Mandela Boulevard in Cape Town on Monday against live animal export and the cattle ship in Cape Town Harbour on 19 February 2024. (Photo: Gallo Images / ER Lombard)

This week Cape Town was filled with the stench of 19 000 cattle in distress on the Al Kuwait ship heading from Brazil to Iraq. 

The ship had intended to restock in South Africa for feed and medication for the cattle. The National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) boarded the ship and found the cattle had been lying in urine and faeces for eight days. 

The smell of ammonia and faeces plagued parts of Cape Town and one can only imagine the stench on the ship. These inhumane conditions left animal welfare groups irate.

Cattle had to be put down and many were in severe distress. Disturbing images surfaced of these animals covered in faeces looking like they were in a terrible state. The situation led to their ongoing call that transporting cattle in this manner was inhumane and led to the suffering of these species. 

The organisation has previously approached the courts looking to halt the transport of animals by sea. In a statement, the NSPCA said: “We acknowledge the concerns raised by members of the public regarding the noticeable stench emanating from the ship, reaching the city centre and surrounds. This smell is indicative of the awful conditions the animals endure, having already spent 2½ weeks on board, with a build-up of faeces and ammonia. The stench onboard is unimaginable, yet the animals face this every single day.”

The issue of transporting animals by sea is not new as seen by the NSPCA’s visits to court. In 2022, it successfully stopped a proposed shipment of thousands of sheep to Kuwait, saying that the heat they would be exposed to would be animal cruelty, the Daily Maverick reported.

Animal welfare group Four Paws is also distressed by these journeys livestock are forced to take. 

The organisation reported: “Every year, 4.5 million cattle, pigs, sheep and goats are exported from the EU to third countries. Mainly sheep and cattle are transported by sea to Libya, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Egypt, Eritrea, Algeria, Georgia and other countries.”

Problems at sea regularly contribute to the suffering these species experience. Four Paws said that in 2021, when the Suez Canal was blocked by a ship, about 2 600 cattle were killed after being stranded at sea for almost three months. They also reported that 14 000 sheep drowned when a ship capsized near Romania in 2019. 

The problem is that many of the vessels used are not appropriate for transporting animals. They are old and have been converted for animal transport. 

Who is responsible for the animals’ wellbeing  is also uncertain once they cross international borders. And there are no veterinarians on board.

Al Kuwait Carrier
Cattle in the Al Kuwait carrier.

Other major consequences of moving animals by ship are that they have small spaces and may trample each other. They cannot rest and may suffer from motion sickness. 

Four Paws also reports that there is not enough ventilation, which results in the animals being subjected to high levels of ammonia concentrated in urine, which suggests inadequate water intake, causing difficulty with breathing and sometimes blindness.

The heat they suffer is another cause for concern. A recent case saw cattle on a ship that docked in Australia subjected to high temperatures and humidity. This situation was a result of the situation in the Red Sea where Houthis were capturing ships. 

There have been increased calls to stop transporting animals until the situation in the Red Sea eases up because ships have had to turn around, extending the animals’ time at sea and prolonging their suffering.

The European Union is responsible for most of the transportation of livestock, with conservative estimates having it at 80% of global trade. This means that much of the responsibility must fall on them to introduce measures that ensure animals are transported in a way that doesn’t cause them any harm.

A solution presented by the NSPCA is that these animals must be transported in carcass form. Another solution is to replace meat consumption with alternative forms of protein.