Live Animal Export: International regulations needed for crew, animal and consumer safety

Award winning writer Dr Lynn Simpson warns no ship trading today is perfectly suited to let animals thrive.

As with most imperfect situations or events the ‘enemy’ is usually not an individual – it’s a policy.

One enemy of live exported animals is the lack of an internationally regulated set of standards providing protection from pain and suffering whilst being transported by sea.

It must be appreciated that apart from being invisible to most people in the world, shipping and live exports in particular operate to a variety of legislative, cultural and environmental parameters.

There are over 100 live export vessels operating globally. Diversity of seaworthiness, animal safety design and crew accommodation standards vary enormously. Not one of them provides the natural environment required for an animal to thrive.

Many of the countries that export live animals do not have legislated standards for which to adhere. The lifting of a live animal directly by a crane would be considered an absolute atrocity of animal welfare in Australia. However, other countries as indicated by the header image obviously think it is acceptable. This image was taken in North Africa (not onto an Australian ship). Unloading animals directly with a crane because a ship isn’t designed with proper ramps is another atrocity; these images are from Southeast Asia.

Voyage distances, stocking densities and onboard provisions and care are simply not universal and rarely compatible with good animal health and welfare.

I was spoilt at sea to a degree, many may disagree after seeing some of my images, but at least I had the confidence that the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) had surveyed and approved my vessels before we loaded and sailed.

All but one of the live export ships I’ve sailed on were AMSA compliant.

When I sailed on the one that wasn’t it didn’t take me long to appreciate AMSA and their high standards.

I was temporarily based on shore when I received several calls from Australia’s Department of Agriculture one day. I repeatedly hit the ‘red button’; I had little if any respect for this organisation. Then a friend’s name from the department showed up on my phone, I answered.

Have you been hanging up on us, she asked with a chuckle? Yep – was my reply.

Her boss had suspected this and knew my friend and I had regular social communication, so he left his office, and asked if she would call me from her personal phone as they had a potential disaster on their hands and needed help.

She soon brokered a contract between the Department and myself.

An AMSA accredited cattle ship had broken down between Somalia and Yemen… Not a great place to be bobbing about, but just another inherent risk of shipping.

She was ‘limping’ to Yemen to transfer the cattle to another ship and continue to Russia. No empty AMSA accredited ships could be found in the vicinity, so a ship that works mostly from the EU was chartered.

The vet understandably had had enough of this voyage, between crawling through pirate waters and now on a ship of dubious quality, he wanted off.

During the transfer of cattle in Yemen, I boarded a plane in Australia and flew to Egypt to replace him. As the then 39-year-old ship spluttered her way up the Red Sea I trawled all the local pharmacies in Cairo for medication, wound creams and bandaging materials that I was certain this ship would not carry.

A three-hour drive, one car accident and many expletives later, the medications and myself were dropped off in the port town of Suez. I took a small wooden boat to the ship and boarded via the gangway lowered to the waters surface. A 20 minute handover from the other vet as he disembarked saying, “good-luck, you’ll need it” and off he went in the little boat as my new ship joined the Suez Canal convoy heading north.

During the canal transit the Australian stockman and myself got busy. We sedated and treated a handful of leg wounds with the gear I brought with me and began getting the cattle into hospital pens as required.

That the non-AMSA accredited vessel didn’t carry medication was a clear indication that Australian standards were somewhat helpful.

Health wise the cattle were not too bad, maybe more tightly loaded than on their original ship, but this was an unforeseen situation.

The other differences I saw were the lack of provisions for the crew, food was scant and socialising more so. They were a lovely bunch of guys just conditioned to working with less.

The S in AMSA became dearly appreciated when we crossed both the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the Australian stockman’s cabin had a sea door that opened directly into it from the main deck. During a few days of heavy weather the waves that landed on deck would come over the storm combing, through the so called water tight seals and flood his cabin.

We laughed about it with raised eyebrows of doubt. His cabin was flooded in inches of sloshing water. His shower was a spout from the wall. From the spout you filled a bucket with water to flush the minimalistic toilet. Not quite five-star. He did have a kettle and a tin of hot chocolate, so for a warm drink I would go to his cabin, leave my dry socks in the hall and wade in. In hindsight when you hear about disasters such as the recent El Faro sinking, possibly due to water breaching, it gives reason to reflect with concern.

That ship is still operating today, 46-years-old. The committee approves ships trading in the European coastal states and the North Atlantic basin, based on quality performance of flags. White, Grey or Black, Black being the poorest standard. This ship I was on is now, and possibly was then, classified ‘Black’.

I suspect she would have a ‘snowball’s chance in hell’ of being passed by AMSA.

It has been found repeatedly that treatment of live exported animals from the EU, to the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey are in desperate need of an international regulatory system.

This was reiterated very recently when Israel’s minister for agriculture placed a ‘freeze’ on livestock imports by sea from Romania. The announcement has come just weeks after Israel’s high court of justice passed down an ‘interim opinion’ on a petition to replace live exports with imported boxed meat based on animal welfare and public health concerns.

If this trade is to continue with reliable regard to animal welfare and safety; universal, consistent, high standards must be implemented, if that cant be achieved it should be replaced by the boxed meat trade.


For Lynn Simpson’s full archive of shocking exposés into the livestock trades, click here.


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  1. Another good article by Dr Simpson, making good use of her own experience.

    “What”, we may ask, “is the IMO doing about this?”

    This is small trade in terms of the total numbers of ships employed in it. It would not be a difficult matter for it to be properly regulated.

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