Attempts to save some of the 14,000 sheep trapped in a half-sunken boat in the Romanian port of Midia have been resumed, say activists at the scene, after sounds emerged from the ship indicating that some were still alive.
Campaigners are calling again for a ban on live exports from Europe to non-EU countries, after the Queen Hind capsized on Sunday, shortly after sailing out of port. Conflicting reports of the ship’s destination mean that at one point it was believed to have been headed to Libya, but the authorities have now confirmed that it was intended for Saudi Arabia.
Footage released by Animals International, which has a number of activists working in Romania, appears to shows sheep piled up against the leaning side of the ship as it sank. More footage, dated the day after the incident, Monday 25th, shows sheep corpses floating around the ship, now on its side in the water, with no sign of rescue activity.
Despite continued public opposition, the live animal export trade continues to grow both inside and out of Europe. European live animal exports rose from a value of $1bn (£0.8bn) in 2000 to $3.3bn in 2018.
Saudi Arabia has only just begun to import live animals from Romania, after signing a recent deal. But it is a significant importer from other sources, including Sudan, Somalia and Jordan. Exports to the region as a whole have increased substantially, and Lebanon, Israel, Kuwait and Omar are particularly large importers. The growth is being driven by a rising demand for meat, a preference for local slaughter, and water shortages – raising cattle in particular is extremely water intensive.
Libya’s reported import data is sketchy (Libya has been fighting a bitter civil war since 2014). But the Guardian has analysed data from exporters which indicates that since 2010 imports of live animals into Libya have risen from $44m to $667m.
Animal welfare groups have repeatedly raised concerns about the EU’s trade to middle eastern countries. Emma Slawinski of Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) points out that the export out of Europe means that it is impossible to check whether European requirements on transport around stocking densities, water breaks and slaughter are actually being complied with. She said this is particularly true for Libya: “all we hear is anecdotal, or from undercover footage, but the conditions there appear to be horrific.”
Romania and Bulgaria are the key routes out of Europe, with the Romanian industry growing steadily from $97m in 2000 t0 $444m in 2018. “Midia is now the busiest port in Europe for live animal export,” said Gabriel Paun of Animals International. “And yet there is no protocol for accidents such as the one that took place yesterday.” He said that the authorities had been working yesterday to rescue the animals, but that the rescue attempts then only resumed late morning today. The number of rescued animals remain 33 at this moment.
Earlier this summer Romania disregarded a request by the EU not to send a large shipment of sheep to Kuwait over concerns about excess heat. MEP Anja Hazekamp is president of the Intergroup on animal welfare and visited Romania to see the shipment depart. She told the Guardian that she would be asking for a debate in the European parliament on this issue. “It seems as if we care more about money than about animals, or humans too.”
As yet there has been no response to requests for comment to Romanian authorities.
Peter Stevenson of CIWF told the Guardian: “Following the latest disaster as a vessel with 14,000 sheep overturns, we urge the EU to ban live exports to non-EU countries. This cruel trade breaches article 13 of [the Lisbon] treaty which recognises animals as sentient beings.”
This article was amended on 25 November 2019. An earlier version said the ship’s destination was believed to be Libya. After publication, an official statement clarified that the destination was Saudi Arabia. This has been corrected.