The Queen Hind, which capsized in Romania’s Midia Port on Sunday, is now a torture chamber of a different sort, writes Dr Lynn Simpson.
Previous reports of no survivors onboard the capsized Queen Hind livestock carrier have proven to be nauseatingly incorrect. Video released yesterday show possibly hundreds of sheep alive and trapped on the top deck with at least one sheep falling out and trying to swim back to the ship. These surviving sheep have been condemned to die a slow, painful and terrifying death as rescue attempts stall.
Other images show dead sheep floating around the ship within a pollution boom. Attempts to tow the partially righted ship to lands edge failed on Sunday night and she has been left on her side in the middle of the busy port.
The stress and desperation is clearly evident in the video footage of these trapped sheep. The Queen Hind has a width of 13 m. So it can be assumed that on top of any injuries received by animals being slammed into railings before she capsized, that many from the Portside would have fallen up to 13m when she finally capsized. A fall like that inside a ship would likely result in not only injuries from hitting railings and other metal infrastructure, but also the injuries sustained as sheep fell onto each other. I have no doubt that the surviving trapped sheep would have a range of injuries from broken legs, ruptured organs, nerve damage, cuts and bruising. Some would require immediate euthanasia to escape their pain, others could be saved with appropriate care.
All would be terrified.
The ‘lucky’ sheep would have drowned in the first few minutes. Many would have lingered longer as they smothered under the weight of their pen mates. The most unlucky, will have survived, with or without injuries. Some may survive, trapped, without pain relief, food or water for days.
The world is watching an inexplicable failure by Romanian authorities to try to remove even the most accessible sheep, hell; some are falling out alive on their own. This visible negligence and cruelty highlighting the lack of emergency protocols and contingency plans for animals in foreseeable man made disasters like this.
I understand there are serious risks for rescue crew as the ship is likely to be very unstable, however the efforts to date have been a disgrace.
These trapped survivors have no access to food or water, they will be cold, exhausted and in desperate need of Veterinary care.
Having sailed 57 voyages with live animals from Australia there were many voyages where at least one animal fell into the water during loading or discharge. Retrieving them is not easy. The responsibility would often be left to the Stockmen and Vet, no country seems to have rescue protocols. More times than I like, I’ve ended up in the water trying to rescue animals. It’s not easy. This doesn’t mean you don’t try.
It is a great reason on top of the others as to why live animals should not be taken to sea.
To complicate issues the crew very often cannot swim. The men that care and tend for the animals on these ships are not the demons some think. They are family men who have had to leave their homes for long contracts to earn a living. Often from countries that are war torn or have very high unemployment. Crew on these ships are often exploited in ‘world’ terms and live in the hands of their employer with poor living conditions, low pay and isolation from friends and family. They don’t want to be on live export ships, but we all have bills to pay.
Interestingly the crew from the Queen Hind are being housed on another ship nearby until investigations are complete. This is an unusual situation and makes me wonder why the operators of the ships are not at least paying the money to house them elsewhere? If the ship was overloaded as reported on some sites it would not be the doing of the crew, loading directives come from people safe and comfortable in an office somewhere.
Is the operator investigating their financial options? Rescue operation, scuttle with animals on board, salvage the vessel or send her to scrap? Either way, animals are suffering this very minute while we wait for action.
A multi-agency investigation is being conducted regarding this disaster including the National Veterinary Authority (ANSVSA) and the Ministry of Environment, Water and Forests. The topics of main interest will be the stocking density, instructions from the operator, and water pollution. I hope strongly that the failure to protect these animals both before and after this disaster are taken into account and the relevant authorities apply the full weight of the law into this including any criminal charges for animal cruelty and negligence.
Romania’s main livestock breeder and exporter association (ACEBOP), has expressed its “shock, outrage and disgust” in the unfolding of this disaster. ACEBOP president, Mary Pana saying “If we cannot protect livestock during long-distance transports, we should outright ban them”.
This is a sentiment that has been reverberating around the world for decades. Many millions of animals have died horribly on ships and been thrown to the sea, this trade is simply unnecessary, cruel and unjustified. Why ignore the use of cold chains using refrigeration for transport of meat products? Refrigeration is the answer to avoid risking any animal being forced to travel at sea.
Romania’s prime minister, Ludovic Orban, has been in favour of the parliamentary bill that aims to freeze summer exports and place a veterinarian on every voyage. More encouraging, he is in favor of keeping the animals in Romania for processing and export meat products only. A likely win-win for Romania, and net animal welfare outcomes. In light of this latest disaster Romania needs to take an unapologetically strong regulatory stand and if that proves too difficult, as has been shown repeatedly from every country that exports live animals by sea, then a total ban of the draconian and cruel practice should be implemented.
Meanwhile, as you read this there are likely to be many trapped, frightened, confused, cold, hungry, thirsty and painfully injured sheep inside the hull of the Queen Hind wondering when help is coming.
For Lynn Simpson’s full archive of shocking exposés into the livestock trades, click here.