Live animal export: Recruiting, training, competency and retention

It is overdue that an international training requirement for crews of live export ships is implemented, argues regular Splash contributor, Dr Lynn Simpson.

Last month saw Singapore Maritime Week. I had the honour of being invited to the Maritime CEO Forum. I listened as a panel of world-renowned authorities on ship crewing and human resources spoke of the issues at hand. For the millions of seafarers currently sailing on commercial ocean going ships problematic themes were clear, some complicated. Many of these issues I have witnessed and or lived first hand.

Competency and knowledge retention was key.

The HR specialists were primarily talking about well-trained crews. Problems being internet connectivity, nationality clashes, gender issues.

I couldn’t help but take it back to a more fundamental issue. Knowing how best to keep the livestock (cargo) alive.

It is overdue that an international training requirement for crews of live export ships is implemented. With around 120 live export ships in existence globally the ability to structure a competency program I believe would be an achievable goal. But who would finance it? How tight are profit margins? If stocking densities of livestock on ships are any indicator then perhaps the trade can’t afford to invest in competency?

In my experience the crews working on live export ships out of Australia and presumably the world have little if any training or experience in livestock management before joining their first livestock ship. There is also a ‘revolving door’ of untrained newcomers joining, and knowledge leaving.

I believe all members of a live export ship should have at least a basic understanding of animal health and survival requirements. Understanding safe, low stress handling of animals not only provides some protection to the animals but also some increased occupational safety for the crew.

From the Captain, Chief Engineer, right through to the ‘ordinary seaman’ who work the decks. It’s imperative they understand how vulnerable ‘live cargo’ can be. How quickly things can become life threatening, how quickly these situations and problems need to be addressed; and the grave cost of ignorance.

In my experience some have this understanding, some don’t. When they don’t, a loaded voyage can be a greater gamble than normal.

Many junior/new crews don’t have any maritime training. During my time at sea I was astounded that so few could even swim, however; a ‘black joke’ on this issue is that “pilots are allowed to captain a plane but they cant personally fly”.

Little comfort in heavy seas: but a reality.

There is specific international training and competency required to work with many special cargos that require ‘Dangerous goods training’ for example, before a crewmember can join. However, to join a live export ship as livestock crew you just need to be available with a passport.

I’ve seen crew and stockmen injured during loading and the company representative has literally asked the nearest stevedore if they can stand in for the voyage. They have raced home for a bag of clothes, their passport, and within hours they are sailing to the Middle East and getting a crash course on merchant shipping and livestock management.

Many will pick up skills on the job. With luck they will have competent stockmen/ a vet to help guide them. However, very few voyages carry a vet and these crews have access to medication and euthanasia tools many of which require a special license to use on land. A legal ‘grey zone’ to say the least.

It’s very unfair to both crews and animals to be relying on guesswork or minimal training for animal health monitoring, diagnosis, treatment, euthanasia and/ post mortem examination. This leads to potentially misleading or non-existent reports and data for trace-back. Few lessons are learnt.

Ships from Australian ports must carry an accredited stockman. I’ve helped teach their course. It’s a step in the right direction, but not sufficient. Teaching a stockman five or six years of veterinary science in a week-long course is not possible. Include stock handling and basic shipping and the stockmen only get a tasting plate of the skills and knowledge required for the safest possible voyage outcome.

To the best of my knowledge other countries have nothing. This does not make us the best, it makes us the only. Neither is good enough. All live export ships in my opinion should be legally bound to carry only crews whom have robust training in animal management and safety. The only people licensed to use the drugs are vets so for safe management of these drugs ships should be carrying a vet to ensure correct, legally compliant drug use and to report on disease and drug residue risks to the importer so they can be advised how best to protect the consumer of their meat products if need be.

I’ve intercepted crew who were taking pieces of recently deceased animals for their immediate consumption onboard. They had no idea what disease/s or medication/s these carcasses carried. They had no concept of the risk they were taking. This is not a game; education is needed to mitigate risks.

Global training of all live export crew members could save animal lives and improve crew safety, hopefully reducing the injury rate of all. It is overdue.

However after hearing of training and recruiting requirements in other shipping sectors I couldn’t help but see this as a reiteration of how unprofessional the live export trade is in comparison. Is it because the animals don’t file injury claims?

Live export standards are a sad blight on the whole professional shipping trade in general, more so on the longer duration voyages I worked on.

Once people have mastered shipping and cargo specific skills it was seen as paramount that while many of these people may decide to change lifestyles, leave the sea and return to shore. Their knowledge and skillsets should be utilised and encouraged to help educate and train new crew.

The growing awareness and concerns surrounding live export and its aging fleet makes the need for training more urgent.

Safety education is paramount for seafarers and their live animal cargo.


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

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