At least 20 of the boats delayed due to a stricken container ship in the Suez canal are carrying livestock, according to marine tracking data, raising concerns about the welfare of the animals if the logjam becomes protracted.
The 220,000-ton Ever Given is causing the longest closure of the Suez canal in decades with more than 200 ships estimated to be unable to pass, and incoming vessels diverting around southern Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.
Georgios Hatzimanolis, a spokesperson for the tracking website Marine Traffic, said while some livestock ships were waiting to enter the canal, three – the Omega Star, the Unimar and the Sea Star – “all appear to be stuck at various points in the canal”. Marine Traffic data showed 11 delayed livestock ships, while an NGO has identified others, bringing the total identified so far to 20.
Five of the ships identified had loaded animals in Spain, and nine had loaded in Romania earlier this month, according to the NGO Animals International.
Gerit Weidinger, EU coordinator for Animals International, said data from marine tracking websites indicated the Unimar left Spain on 15 March bound for Jeddah. The Omega Star left Spain, she said, on 16 March bound for Port Said.
There were no immediate welfare concerns for the animals, but if the Ever Given has to be lightened to make it easier to dislodge, using cranes to remove enough containers could take weeks and the surrounding ships would need to leave and find longer alternative routes.
The nearby ports of Said and Suez could be used to reload fodder if supplies run low, though the process may not be straightforward with so many ships in the queue.
Thousands of cattle have already been slaughtered this year because of delays at sea.
Two ships, the Karim Allah and the Elbeik, were forced to spend months away from port because their original destination refused to accept the animals due to a health paperwork dispute that raised fears the cattle could be carrying the bovine disease bluetongue. The dispute ignited a chain of events that saw both vessels eventually return to Spain.
The animals on board the ships returned in such a poor condition Spanish authorities ordered them to be slaughtered in the port of Cartagena. More than 850 cattle on the Karim Allah were slaughtered earlier in March, while the Elbeik slaughter is ongoing with an estimated 360 of the almost 1,800 who commenced the journey culled as of Thursday.
Weidinger said she was concerned if the crisis became protracted the animals’ welfare could become an issue.
“My greatest fear is that animals run out of food and water and they get stuck on the ships because they cannot be unloaded somewhere else for paperwork reasons,” she said.
“Getting stuck on board means there is a risk [for the animals] of starvation, dehydration, injuries, waste buildup so they can’t lie down, and nor can the crew get rid of dead animal bodies in the [Suez] canal. It’s basically a ticking biohazard timebomb for animals and the crew and any person involved,” she said.
Asked about the ships with Spanish-origin livestock on board, the Spanish agriculture ministry said on Thursday: “We cannot tell you anything about these ships, but due to the blockage of the Suez canal as a result of the grounding of the cargo ship, the Spanish administration has given orders that no animal transport ships bound for Saudi Arabia and Jordan should be loaded until the canal can be navigated normally.”
Romanian agriculture and veterinary authorities have yet to comment.
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