Suez Canal: Livestock ships caught in logjam are ‘biohazard timebomb’, charity warns

At least 20 vessels carrying live animals, according to industry tracking data, which could pose problems if Ever Given rescue effort proves prolonged and feed supplies run low

Joe Sommerlad
Saturday 27 March 2021 17:56 GMT
Rescue efforts to free cargo ship blocking Suez Canal

With the MV Ever Given mega-ship still stranded in the Suez Canal and blocking traffic in both directions, it emerges that at least 20 of the cargo vessels forced to queue in the Mediterranean, Red Sea and along the historic waterway are carrying livestock, raising concerns about the animals’ welfare.

Data from freight tracking website Marine Traffic indicates that 11 of the delayed container ships are carrying cattle, sheep and other livestock, while the Australia-based NGO Animals International has identified a further nine, according to The Guardian.

Marine Traffic spokesperson Georgios Hatzimanolis said three of the carriers, the Omega Star, the Unimar and the Sea Star, “appear to be stuck at various points in the canal” rather than queuing for entry.

Gerit Weidinger, EU coordinator for Animals International, said the Unimar and Omega Star appear to have left Spain on 15 March and 16 March respectively while a further nine of the boats were loaded in Romania earlier this month.

While the animals aboard are not in immediate danger, the prospect of the rescue effort to free the Ever Given taking several weeks to accomplish poses serious questions about their welfare.

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“I wouldn’t expect just after a two-day delay for a problem to have built up,” Peter Stevenson, chief policy officer at Compassion in World Farming, told Bloomberg. “It’s as time goes by that the problems get worse. Occasionally, there are real scandals when things go wrong, but it’s a day-to-day horror.”

“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,” Ms Weidinger said.

“Getting stuck on board means there is a risk 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 canal. It’s basically a ticking biohazard timebomb for animals and the crew and any person involved.”

Companies transporting livestock by sea reportedly set sail with at least two or three days’ worth of extra hay or feed on board and could potentially have more delivered by barge if they cannot reach port in time, a process known as “midstream loading”.

The chaos in the canal began on Tuesday when the Ever Given, a 220,000-tonne container ship operated by Taiwanese shipping giant Evergreen was apparently blown off course by 30mph winds and became wedged in the bank, bringing traffic to a standstill in a trade route that accounts for approximately one-tenth of the world’s seaborne freight.

Efforts to free it using a team of tugboats, diggers and cranes have yet to see the ship refloated, with the ongoing delays to the delivery of container cargo expected to have widespread knock-on effects for the global supply chain.

“Even the slightest delay in traffic can result in congestion and disturb the delivery of goods and commodities on both sides,” analysts at S&P Global Platts warned earlier this week.

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