The Australian government is backtracking on its commitment to improve conditions onboard livestock carriers. Dr Lynn Simpson is not impressed.
An almost unbelievable turn of events has occurred. Unbelievable if you were not familiar with the draconian thinking of the Australian government. The government that declared an immediate need to improve welfare on live export ships after yet another nauseating expose, has now reversed a decision to improve conditions significantly.
The Australian public, government, farmers, and exporters themselves have all been outspoken at the raft of evidence showing appalling animal welfare failures in the live animal export trade. The tragedies are not isolated to Australia, yet we have had legislation in place for decades to try to protect animals, albeit insufficient.
Hence when the two regulators in Australia decided to rewrite the applicable legislation it was a welcomed move. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) regulates the ship design and materials area, while the Department of Agriculture is in charge of animal welfare. Both are intrinsically linked.
In 2006 AMSA began discussions to ban the use of double-tiered decks on sheep ships, 2023 was the target and grave animal welfare concerns and evidence was the driver.
16 years seems like a very generous lead up time to prevent unnecessary deaths to me. Commercial consideration, based on scientific welfare based evidence of avoidable suffering and deaths.
As new overwhelming evidence continued to pour into the public arena the decision was made, after deep discussion with shippers, to bring the target date forward to January 1, 2020 and meet it with a ventilation increase to 0.5 m/sec air flow and distribution into animal pens.
Many shipowners had been acting since 2006 and working to modify or build vessels that would be compliant when the regulations came into play.
LSS and KLTT have chosen not to be compliant with their remaining double tiered vessels the Maysora and the Al Shuwaikh, respectively. Yet intention to trade from Australia was expressed. How was that going to happen?
This week, while the salvage crew are still removing dead sheep from the recently capsized Queen Hind, the Australian government have ridden rough shod over AMSA, and declared that there will be scope for the two non compliant vessels to be granted an exemption to the new regulations as the target date has been reset to 2023.
Yet reports state that no one has even asked for an exemption, openly at least. Should we just speculate that there are ‘backroom deals’ going on at a ministerial level that are not transparent?
In real speak, this means any animal carried on a single tier deck will get the benefit of improved ventilation, whilst those condemned to suffer on a double-tier deck must also suffer the lowest air quality. Leaving the most vulnerable exposed to known, unnecessary pain, suffering and distress.
Earlier this year our prime minister said the public service “needs to evolve” and “conventional wisdom needs to be challenged”. So why is reform in government regulated live export devolving and resisting common sense changes?
Computer modelling has shown an inability for double-tiered sheep decks to be able to achieve the required 0.5 m/sec air flow and distribution required. The decision to retard progress on this matter will put animals and crew in danger. The airflow is required to supply breathing air, remove heat, CO2, Ammonia and humidity. Without these modifications, regardless of the stocking density the environment will be the same ongoing disaster waiting to happen.
Australia has enough single tiered tonnage (carrying capacity), currently chronically under -utilised, to enable the expected number of sheep to be transported without the use of these two vessels that would not have complied to the 2020 regulations. Unsurprisingly the shippers whom have complied to this regulation are certainly airing their disapproval of what appears to be an inconsistent regulatory approach, or do we just call it favouritism and unjust?
What could encourage a government to act so blindly to the overwhelming body of evidence proving the need to improve animal welfare during sea transport?
A single sheep tier, on a double tier deck has a minimum 1.1 m height, very similar to a sheep truck. Once loaded it is difficult to manage. Simply being able to visually monitor sheep in these double decks is near impossible. Finding sick, injured, weak, shy feeders or blind sheep even more difficult. If you do manage to identify them you then have to double over to move in the pens trying to catch the animal that requires treatment. This not only makes the sheep try to run away and jump in the process often bashing their heads on not so overhead metal beams, but also overcrowd and potentially smother and suffocate each other. The movement of the sheep means that any crew member is often caught up in the crush and can easily become injured as well.
Once an animal is caught it is usually transferred to a ‘hospital pen’. There they are provided with treatment as appropriate.
I’ve sat in meetings with shippers who have never tended sheep at sea, while they try to tell me there is no difference in mortality rates from a double-tiered deck to a single or an upper tier to a lower. They say it with such a straight face I suspect they believe it. But I can guarantee, that death is not a great indicator of animal welfare, morbidity is. And the rate of morbity occurrence and severity has always been much greater on double tiered decks compared to single.
Data is not reliably available regarding upper or lower tier deaths as many animals die in the hospital pens and rarely is their deck of origin recorded.
The majority of my 57 voyages were on double-tiered sheep ships, including the Maysora and the Al Shuwaikh. My end of voyage reports show that reasons to climb into the decks to tend to sheep in need occur 12 months a year, the moratorium does not prevent this issue.
My experience proves to me that double-tiered sheep ships should never have been allowed to trade, let alone be given any sort of exemption as we approach 2020.
The desperation of this trade is clearer each day.
For Lynn Simpson’s full archive of shocking exposés into the livestock trades, click here.