8 Sep 2020

Farmers seek clarity on future of live exports

6:44 pm on 8 September 2020

The government is being urged to make a quick decision on what it will do about live export ships, as thousands of cows on quarantine farms face slaughter.

Gulf Livestock 1 vessel off the shores of Malaga in 2018.

Gulf Livestock 1 vessel off the shores of Malaga in 2018. Photo: Frans Truyens via Vessel Finder

The Ministry for Primary Industries put an immediate halt on applications for live shipments after the capsize and sinking of the Gulf Livestock 1, which went down in a typhoon in the East China Sea nearly a week ago.

There were 43 crew, including two New Zealanders, and nearly 6000 cattle on board.

Now farmers say they need clarity on when, or if, the export trips will be able to resume.

About 26,000 cattle are on quarantine farms around the country being readied to be exported to China.

The next ship is due here in about 10 days, so the pressure is on for a decision one way or the other.

Federated Farmers President Andrew Hoggard said it was unlikely the cattle in quarantine could be sold in New Zealand and the options remained very limited if they could not be exported.

"They would probably end up having to be slaughtered and there would be a massive loss in value for what you would get for them.

"My understanding these are all dairy replacement heifers so they are not your traditional beef animals so your beef return isn't going to be great from them. It's not an ideal outcome at all."

Hoggard said time was running out.

''Get the information that is needed, get the understanding and my hope is they can get this trade moving again as long as it is safe to do so.''

Hoggard said Federated Farmers supported live-exports continuing.

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Damien O'Connor Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said the government needed to be reassured of the safety of livestock exports - which may delay the next scheduled shipment.

''We don't want to put our animals on to a boat that might put them or their stockhandlers and the people at risk.''

O'Connor said the government needed to ensure that if people or animals were being put on ships, they would be safe and would get to their destination.

Meanwhile, the search is continuing for more survivors from the ship that sank after being hit by a typhoon while enroute from Napier to China carrying nearly 6000 head of cattle.

Forty crew remain missing including two New Zealanders.

Two filipino crew members have been rescued alive, but a third man who was picked up, died.

The search resumed on Tuesday after being suspended when a second typhoon hit over the weekend.

A Japan Coast Guard vessel searches for the Gulf Livestock 1, 4 September 2020.

Photo: Japan Coast Guard

A New Zealand master-mariner, who also worked for the then Maritime Safety Authority, Kim Penny, said it was unlikely searching would continue for much longer and as each day passed, the search area just gets bigger.

"It's great they [Japan] are still contributing. I think it has to be said some countries might have decided to no longer keep searching.

"The fact they are still searching I think is really fantastic and that is great they are seeing hope and I think probably because they have found the two survivors and a body, they will be seeing that there is that tiny, tiny glimmer of hope."

But Penny believes the chance of finding any more survivors is slim.

"They may drift ashore somewhere as well but it is really sad to say but it would be unexpected that anyone would be found at this point I would think."

Penny said had the ship not lost engine power it would have navigated the typhoon safely.

She said claims the ship could have avoided the storm did not stack up.

"I'd be guessing its cruising speed would be around about 13-18 knots so that is not that fast. It is not as if you are on a plane and say we are just going to divert around that storm. You know actually once you are in [the storm] you don't have a lot of options for getting out.

"You can take a path to minimise your time in it but you really don't have a lot of options once you are in a ship moving that slowly."

She said seafarers were used to storms, but for the people on board looking after the cattle it would have been very miserable.

"That's not the sort of thing you would normally go through. As a seafarer it would be uncomfortable but within your normal experience of your work life.

"You get used to holding on and working yourself into corners and holding on to the rails as you walk around while the engine is going and it would have been uncomfortable but tolerable."

The first man plucked out of the water about 12 hours after the vessel went down told the Japan Coastguard after being thrown overboard by high-waves, he caught hold of a cow in the water, desperately held on to it and then climbed on to a raft and waited to be rescued.

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