Thousands of cattle remain stranded at sea on two livestock ships that left Spain in mid-December as campaigners desperately seek veterinary support for the animals.
The two vessels were bound for Libya but owing to an onboard outbreak of the bovine disease bluetongue were refused entry at multiple ports, said Maria Boada Saña, a vet with Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF), which has been tracking the ships via maritime websites.
On 19 February the website myshiptracking.com showed one of the ships, the Elbeik, anchored off the coast of Cyprus, and the other, Karim Allah, off the coast of Sardinia. The vessels left the Spanish ports of Tarragona and Cartagena on 18 December respectively.
A spokesperson for Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said the ships’ situation had “nothing to do with the actions of the Spanish administration” and had left the country with health certificates and had come from areas free of bluetongue.
They added that officials were monitoring the vessels’ movements and were in contact with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the European commission “to find a solution to the situation”. A spokesperson for the commission said the Spanish authorities were willing to receive both ships back.
Boada Saña said marine traffic websites indicated that the Elbeik had about 1,700 cattle on board and the Karim Allah almost 900. The Spanish authorities did not respond to questions about animal numbers.
Given the Karim Allah’s proximity to Italy, Manuela Giacomini, a Genoa-based lawyer who works with AWF, said she filed a request with the Italian health ministry asking it to perform an urgent veterinary inspection of the ship in collaboration with Sardinia’s port state authority in Cagliari.
Olga Kikou, the head of Compassion in World Farming EU, lodged a similar request that asked the Cypriot authorities to arrange an urgent inspection of the Elbeik.
Cyprus’s chief veterinary officer said the Elbeik was being monitored, adding that when the vessel approached Cypriot waters, the country’s authorities would “proceed accordingly with checking this case”.
Kikou, who is in Greece, said the most immediate priority was that veterinary services boarded the ships to “check the animals and euthanatise any that are suffering. The conditions inside the ship cannot be good after two months. And then a solution needs to be found between the different authorities to determine next steps for any animals that can be saved.”
An email from the the International Maritime Organization said its seafarer crisis action team was aware of the situation and that it was concerned for the “wellbeing of seafarers and the safety of navigation [and] in this case also the livestock”.
Asked for comment on the two ships, the OIE said in an email that it was “in contact with the concerned member countries and also with our regional offices” to “minimise negative impact on animal welfare during transport operations and emphasise the joint responsibility of all people involved in the different stages of the transport”.
Tilly Metz, the Luxembourg MEP who chairs the European parliament’s animal transport inquiry committee, said this was “yet another live animal transport scandal involving ships. After the 2019 tragedy of the [Queen Hind] ship, which capsized with 14,000 sheep on board, now allegedly over 2,600 bovines [are] stuck on two vessels wandering from port to port in search of help. How can it be that there is no contingency plan in case of diseases or other unforeseen events?”
Metz said a key animal transport problem was that time spent on the ship was considered “resting time” and not “transport time”.
“This means there is no limit as to how many hours animals can be on these ships: days, weeks, even months. Many consider this to be a legal anomaly and a loophole in the rules on the protection of animals during transport,” she added.
This case, she said, “proves again a ship is not a floating stable. It is an unnatural, often stressful, overloaded and understaffed environment, with inherent risks such as disease outbreaks, feed shortages and refusals to unload”.
Attempts to contact the ships owners and operators by phone were unsuccessful.
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