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Friday, September 2, 2011

From Al Messilah to Al Shuwaikh – either Scylla or Charybdis for sheep.

Animals most often are transported in inhumane conditions especially when they are transported in large numbers and when meant for consumption.  The carriage is often unhealthy, unethical and barbaric.  You could see many trucks transporting chicken – huddled together in very small cages where they cannot move or even breathe. In retail often they are tied in cycles, mopeds and other two wheelers hanging upside down.  Perhaps they undergo severe stress and die much before they are put down for consumption. 

There have been accidents to carriers which had resulted in death or severe injuries to the live cargo.  They could undergo severe trouble even when a breakdown occurs was brought out in one of my recent posts  about the  vessel  ‘Al Messilah” with callsign : 9KWH – IMO No. 7924425 Length 185 M Beam 32 M.   The carriage of 67000 sheeps from Australia had  raised grave concerns for  the  Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).  The vessel - Al Messilah was once a car carrier. By request of the Kuwaiti shipping company Livestock Transport and Trading Company (KLTT), Meyer Werft converted the ship into a livestock carrier. 

The vessel immediately after leaving Adelaide had engine trouble and had to be brought back to the Port.  The nature of the cargo raised several uncomfortable issues as the animals could not be left on a vessel for long.  The Quarantine and Inspection Service  had at that time stated that the  breakdown had not affected the ventilation, feed and water systems  - still there were reports suggesting that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry was working with the vessel’s master and the exporter to maintain the welfare of the animals.  Even in ordinary times, the voyage is expected to take a longer time, passing through different climatic conditions which could also result in death and suffering of the animals. 

As the repairs took time, the animals had to be off loaded.  The sheeps driven on board the vessel were moved to an Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) approved feedlot at Dublin, north of Adelaide – a process  which took more than 4 days.  To ensure that it passes with no eventuality, Biosecurity South Australia  established an incident management team to oversee the welfare of the sheep in the feedlot.  The unloading was done under the supervision of AQIS.  Though they claimed that the sheep were in good condition, still there were some deaths perhaps caused by stress, exhaustion, and handling.

sheeps being unloaded - Photo from adelaidenow.com.au

The incident brought to the fore the inherent risks in transporting live animals  over such vast distances by sea – risks that the industry had never been able to address.  The Middle East has all along been the biggest market for Australia's sheepmeat and live exports.  The exports are also hit by tough economic conditions and cross currency fluctuations.   Australians claim that their consumers would demonstrate an almost insatiable appetite for their sheepmeat product as against those from African and other countries !
Vessel Al Shuwaikh (courtesy : shipspotting.com)
In marine parlance, when such impediment occurs, it is the easy way option to look for a replacement carrier.  This being a specialised carrier and the cargo being live animals of so many thousands, presented more problems.   The animals had been herded to quarantine and a replacement vessel Al Shuwaikh could be chartered and did arrive at the Port Adelaide.  But this being a smaller vessel, reports citing  Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry  state that only 50000 sheep would be transported now.


That means approximately 17000 sheep would remain stranded in the South Australian feedlot and their future is unclear.  Anyway they were meant to be slaughtered – still whether if they are to be sold and transported, they would be taken care of for some more time least.  There are plans afoot to process the balance of sheep in Australia. Now there are reports that loading of sheep on to vessel Al Shuwaikh is to be begin and animal welfare activists have gathered around the Port Adelaide protesting the entire sordid episode. 

Whether to pity for the left overs or for the animals which are once again subjected to the stress of cramped shipboard transportation and hazards of open ocean is deciding between “Scylla and Charybdis” – the sea monsters of Homer.  The stress of transport begins on day one and these sheep have been in transit for a month. They now face another three weeks at sea heading to temperatures in the Middle East of close to 40 degrees.

It is common knowledge that there are deaths in every such shipments arising out of various reasons ranging from failure to ear, illness, injury, stress, inhumane treatment, herded together and more.  Transportation only displays callousness and greed for more money.

Whether it is accidents, trade disputes, poor handling, greed of the merchants, technical failures, non provision / non availability of feed, disease, mechanical breakdown or otherwise – it the animals that bore the brunt and at risk of death.

With regards
S. Sampathkumar

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