Dr Lynn Simpson looks at the South African livestock trades.
With no apparent intention to comply with the new Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), single tier, sheep deck regulations, coming into force in Australia in just 14 weeks the Al Shuwaikh is currently waiting outside the port of East London in South Africa to try its luck there.
This is the same ship owned by KLTT (Kuwaiti Livestock Transport and Trading) that showed a blatant disregard for known animal welfare risks by continuing to transport sheep by sea throughout the Middle East, in its peak summer time, during the moratorium period that was observed from Australia. The same shipping company that has had over 1,500,000 (1.5 million!) animals die on, and be thrown in the oceans from, their ships since the 1990s.
However, upon arrival to South African waters it has been met with unprecedented media attention by ‘Carte Blanche’.
Increased awareness from such publicity has led to immediate growing dismay and protests as to how or why the South African Department of Agriculture would even consider granting an export permit for live animals when South Africa already has a chilled/ frozen export meat trade.
How they couldn’t have learnt the lessons Australia has of the scourge that this trade is on a country’s ethical image, onshore jobs, stability of rural economies and above all the welfare of the South African animals?
I first sailed on this ship in 2003. Checking my reports from that vessel I had clearly outlined heat stress deaths and hydration issues for sheep including in the middle of the Middle East’s winter. Repeatedly I had other vets ask me if I found problems with insufficient supply or drinkability of water on this ship, repeatedly other vets also questioned if I had had deaths onboard from heat stress. I answered yes to all of them. The ships operators in both Kuwait (KLTT) and in Australia (RETWA and their associated trading partners) were aware. Authorities were formally notified of all concerns, including LiveCorp, the Department of Agriculture of Australia and AMSA. Yet still, over a decade later we have at least one recent independent observer report detailing (in redacted reports) animal welfare concerns around heat stress suffering, smothering and deaths as well as water supply issues on the Al Shuwaikh, unsurprisingly the next Independent Observer report is simply unaccessible to the public with the questionable description of “unauthorised”. I can guess what the Australian Dept of Agriculture is trying not to be transparent about. And it stinks!
One of my end of voyage reports complaining about such incidents occurring during a January/ February voyage in 2004 was of such concern to the then general manager in Australia, that he asked “how much would it cost for you to change this?” before it was to be sent to the Australian Department of Agriculture. The report was sent in its original and only form, followed closely by me in a plane. A meeting with the Dept of Agriculture in Canberra ensued to explain the gravity of these issues. Yet these problems still occur.
Fifteen years later, does the Department of Agriculture in South Africa want to be heading down the same path of regulating the pain, suffering and obfuscation that is the intermittently visible trade of live animals by sea?
Legal bodies in South Africa are prepared to challenge the legitimacy of this trade on animal welfare grounds.
Running away from tightening welfare regulations, legal challenges and media attention will not work. The spotlight is on this trade and it has a global reach and is only getting brighter.
The animal and crew welfare risks of live export are simply unavoidable.
For Lynn Simpson’s full archive of shocking exposés into the livestock trades, click here.