Dr Lynn Simpson recalls how she put pen to paper 16 years ago to record her worst ever livestock voyage. The ship she was on at the time is still moving animals around the globe.
Ongoing damning exposés have forced Australia through social and scientific pressure to finally, officially, raise welfare conditions for animals transported by sea.
Recent and upcoming changes to carrying standards are severely overdue and welcomed. Current improvements include a reduction in sheep stocking densities by 17% and a trade moratorium to high ‘heat stress’ risk areas, namely the Middle East during its hottest months.
Anyone interested, and many who would rather be kept in the dark now know what death by heat stress at sea looks like.
It’s appalling, grotesque, cruel… and 100% preventable.
Heat stress science is robustly defined. Exposure to wet bulb temperatures (WBT) exceeding 28 degrees C is the biggest killer. Not to be confused with 28 degree C dry bulb (DBT) as weather reports on TV use.
My voyage reports span across 11 years, with very few months not recording temperatures of 28C WBT or more, all coinciding with a spike in mortalities. These temperature readings were never taken during the hottest time of the day, a flaw well known by industry and the government. All reports were received by the Australian government. This flaw has been known since the 1980s and has enabled the suppression of heat stress risks.
The trade moratorium stated no live sheep by sea to or through the Middle East during June, July August. Arbitrarily know as ‘summer’. However, the temperatures in the Middle East don’t necessarily respect the Gregorian calendar and its seasons. Avoiding ‘summer’ is not the cure all. Avoiding the likelihood of animals being exposed to travelling with wet bulb temperatures above 28 degrees C is the goal. Studies of temperatures in the Middle East clearly show the risk of temperatures exceeding this critical and potentially fatal limit are actually from May through to the end of October.
The current moratorium has already been extended to September 22 for this year. An unusual date, leaving 39 days of high fatality risk to be gambled with. The Australian department of agriculture has said it would ‘revisit’ this date for review as we draw closer. How close?
News from June 12 states that Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were recording the hottest temperatures on Earth. The extreme heat of this year’s Middle Eastern summer is expected to continue well into the summer season. Interestingly the article states that the Middle Eastern summer does not officially kick off until June 21. In early June Kuwait had already recorded temperatures reaching 52.2 C (DBT) in the shade, 63 C (DBT) in the sun.
September 22 looms, it is time the department of agriculture determines a scientifically sound extension of the moratorium on animal welfare grounds that surpasses September 22.
The moratorium shouldn’t frighten farmers who care about their animals; in 2018 the air-freight of chilled sheep carcasses from Australia surpassed sea freighted sheep meat for the first time and continues to grow. The live export ships are anchored and sheep trading continues.
Some exporters who claim concern for sheep welfare have continued to expose sheep to extreme heat risk and operate sporadically from other countries during the moratorium.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) will be implementing significantly important new regulations as of January 1 2020, 16 weeks away.
The two main changes are:
1- All ships must supply a 0.5 m/second supply of fresh air, well distributed across all livestock pens. This will improve air supply, quality and distribution. Hopefully improving health and safety standards for both animals and crew.
2- Any ship wishing to trade from Australia must have single tier decks only. This will reduce heat and gas build-up, increase visibility of animals by caretakers on deck and enable the mechanical ventilation to operate more efficiently as there will be fewer obstacles to overcome.
Until recently there remained only three ships with double tiers operating from Australia.
They were the Bader 3, Maysora and the Al Shuwaikh. The company owning the Bader 3 announced ‘she’ will not be returning to Australia due to strict new regulation changes, her sister ship the Maysora has been undergoing extensive and expensive modification work to ensure she will comply with AMSA’s new regulations.
Recent images of the Al Shuwaikh carrying sheep from Romania to Kuwait in the height of the Middle Eastern heat show her double tiers remain. Without swift, costly modification this will ensure she is ineligible to trade in Australia as of January 1 2020. They have so far, clearly chosen not to comply.
The new AMSA regulations have come as no surprise. For years I have sat at meetings where their implementation has been discussed, rationalised and progressed with exporters, ship owners and other stakeholders present. These changes are undeniably required and overdue.
Stay at sea long enough and you will learn how different ships ‘perform’, how companies operate and where you do or don’t want to work. I personally hope the Shuwaikh does not return to Australia.
I’ve done many voyages on all three of these ships; I’ve seen much death on each. Only one has left me in such despair knowing there was nothing more could be done to help heat stressed animals, that I uncharacteristically jotted down the first and last poem I had ever written. Maybe the fumes got to me?
As I worked, soaked in sweat, shit and blood, deep in the humid, hot decks of the Al Shuwaikh in mid-September 2003 I opened my sweat soaked pocket notebook. Almost subconsciously, in the space of minutes, I wrote about my immediate surroundings. The same surroundings the Australian government has this week refused a 12-month notice, fully paid for freedom of information request by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), for video footage taken on her last May by an ‘independent observer’.
I returned home and typed it up, a reminder of why I had to keep speaking up for the animals, of how bad conditions were. I didn’t want the memory to fade like declaring you will never drink again after a bad hangover. The severity of conditions can subconsciously be pushed from your mind when returning home.
An afternoon of relaxing with friends was interrupted when a journo mate returned from my home office with a piece of paper in his hand and a “WTF is this?” on his lips.
He had found the poem. He’d read it. He was a police reporter, writing about ‘unsavoury’ things for a living.
“This is some of the darkest shit I’ve ever read, why do you go back?!”
Poor Bastards Poem
Pop… Another life vaporised by the
consequential greed of bacteria and businessmen
Huff… Wheeze… the futile attempt at survival in an
already autolytic body. O2… the holy grail.
Whoosh, Whoosh… pumps the steaming liquid optimism,
Now released from one bleeding heart by the
metaphoric heart of another.
Hum, Shake, Rattle, Roll… No celebration, not here.
Simply the tardis that compels us to the gates of hell.
Glimpsing the equatorial window along the way
Innocence? In a vain attempt to salvage my conscience I
imagine each one of these souls were once Nazi guards,
guilty of atrocities such as the ones I commit.
How else did we earn the right to this passage…
My next kill is looming… in preparation
I casually list my body to portside.
This motion confirms the presence of the lethal weapon,
safe and warm in my pocket…
Gravity is strong in this strange world, sinking my humanity with every innocent soul signing off to join King Neptune’s ranks…
They are innocent!… Poor bastards
And I? Guilty…
My poem sucks, but every step towards improved welfare for animals in this draconian trade meant returning to that ‘world’. Continuing to gather evidence and report it to authorities has not been in vain.
For Lynn Simpson’s full archive of shocking exposés into the livestock trades, click here.