3 Sep 2020

Live cattle exports suspended after ship goes missing - MPI

6:15 pm on 3 September 2020

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has temporarily suspended consideration of cattle livestock export applications.

Ministry for Primary Industries building

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

It follows the disappearance of a cargo ship that went missing during a typhoon with 43 people - believed to include two New Zealanders, two Australians, and the remainder Filipinos - and almost 6000 cattle on board.

The Japan Coast Guard today said a distress signal had come from the "Gulf Livestock 1".

One Filipino crew member who was picked up by the Japan Coast Guard said the ship's engine failed, then it was hit by a freak wave and capsized. The fate of the rest of the crew is unknown.

Australian vet Lynn Simpson who has done 57 voyages on livestock ships described the Gulf Livestock 1 as relatively small, with some vessels able to carry up to 20,000 animals.

She said the smaller the vessel the greater the risk in rough weather, and believed the economic realities of live animal shipments meant a ship was under pressure to get to its destination as quickly as possible.

"So that might explain why this ship headed straight into a typhoon which should have been visible on weather reporting and radars and you would think somebody would try to avoid it, but whether the typhoon moved unpredictabily or the master wasn't aware that it was in their path, it's hard to tell."

Simpson said in shipping there were often risks taken to save money.

She said the risks increased as the ship neared the end of its journey and it became lighter in weight with more animal feed and fuel used up.

"Any weight that was down below which sort of acts as heavy ballast and keeps the ship generally more stable is then used up and basically gone, so the ship becomes more top heavy and when it hits rough weather then it's at more danger of rolling and causing injury and, or capsizing.''

Greens want live animal exports to end

Green Party spokesperson on animal welfare Gareth Hughes told RNZ's Checkpoint today the Green Party wanted a ban on exporting all live animals.

He said he was disappointed that a government review on the issue was taking so long.

There is already a ban on exporting live animals for slaughter, but there is a loophole allowing the export of live animals for breeding, Hughes said.

"It's something I don't think we should be continuing, we know these animals do suffer with distress aboard the ships with potentially weeks at sea.

"It's something I've urged the minister to act with haste on and I'm disappointed the review has taken so long to get to this point."

Hughes said live exports were not good for the animals which suffer, nor was it in New Zealand's economic interest because it damaged the country's international agricultural brand and there were always risks in a maritime environment.

"We're still talking about tens of thousands of animals confined in very small spaces at sea, they can't understand what's happening with the risk conditions out there."

Hughes said New Zealand could still export genetic material without exporting the live animals, for example by exporting semen for breeding, which would avoid the animal welfare issues.

He said it would make sense to have a moratorium on all live exports until the review was completed.

"But ultimately I want to see this review concluded and I want to see this practice ended."

Damien O'Connor, who is the Minister responsible for live exports, declined to be interviewed on Checkpoint.

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