South African Sheep Face “Nightmare” Journey

Image from whistleblower footage courtesy of Animals Australia
Image from whistleblower footage courtesy of Animals Australia

Published Sep 17, 2019 1:44 AM by The Maritime Executive

As the livestock carrier, the Al Shuwaikh, heads for South Africa, local TV show Carte Blanche has investigated the nation's emerging live export trade with Kuwait and the potential for what the presenter calls a “nightmare journey” for the 65,000 sheep being readied to sail.

The Carte Blanche TV show says: “Facing prolonged loading processes, poor ventilation, stifling heat and overcrowded quarters, some 65,000 sheep will soon be packed onto a mammoth livestock vessel due in the East London harbor later this month. The livestock will be transported for weeks on the high seas, standing in their own filth, with no space to even lie down. Amid methane gas and ammonia accumulating in the cargo hold, this controversial trade deal between South Africa and the Middle East will eventually see millions of our sheep sent abroad.”

The TV show notes the whistleblower footage released by in Australia in 2017 that focused on the Awassi Express but also included footage from the Al Shuwaikh. The Carte Blanche presenter said the footage was so disturbing that it was decided not to show it on the program. He interviews Australian Dr. Lynn Simpson, a former live export veterinarian who has sailed on the Al Shuwaikh and who has been raising the issue of poor welfare on live export ships since 2001. Simpson says when she saw the footage, she was just seeing her experience from 57 voyages repeated.

The controversy surrounding the whistleblower footage continues in Australia - and an Australian Department of Agriculture observer report from a May 2018 voyage of the Al Shuwaikh revealed suffering and death as a result of the vessel's design and management of livestock on board. The report indicated that for eight days sheep were open mouth breathing, indicating severe heat stress, as they “attempted to gain position around the ventilation vents on all open and closed decks.” Multiple instances of “death by smothering” occurred as a result of this. Heat stress was worsened by “oil fuel heaters being left on during the equator crossing” and poor ship design with “dark colored steel roof surface absorbing radiated heat from above.”

Additionally, the observer noted that water troughs were fouled with manure, particularly towards the end of the voyage when a skeleton crew were available to attend the livestock due to discharge preparations. There were significant welfare concerns during discharge, with the livestock, vocalizing loudly, left without fresh feed for over 30 hours. Moldy food was observed in the bottom of troughs for both sheep and cattle on numerous occasions. Dusty pellets were also observed, and on some decks this was largely attributed to the workings of the automated feeding system. The observer also noted that during rough weather a ballast tank overflowed into one of the sheep pens.

A Kuwaiti export company is apparently planning to export two consignments of around 70,000 sheep from South Africa to the Middle East this year, followed by 600,000 sheep, goats and cattle annually for the next three to five years.

Shatha Hamade from Animals Australia, says on the Carte Blanche program: “Every animal welfare organization on the planet opposes the live export trade by sea, and for good reason. The inherent suffering and risks in this trade are actually unavoidable.”

Regarding the export voyage planned for departure from South Africa later this month, she says: “I challenge the farmer that might be contracting with the Kuwaiti company, I challenge him to sit down and watch this [whistleblower] footage and talk to me and tell me that he thinks that it's okay.”