The Live Export of Animals by Sea is Marred by Animal Cruelty
Updated: Sep 10
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Namibia and its Branches strongly opposes the operation of a live animal export trade by sea.
From a humane perspective, animal welfare groups worldwide oppose live export by sea because of the inherent suffering and associated risks. There is no justifiable reason to ship animals 7000 km by sea to then endure a potentially brutal death in a foreign country, especially given that Middle East nations currently import large amounts of chilled / frozen meat.
From an economic perspective, it is more advantageous to process meat within Namibia than to serve as a waypoint for outside companies.
From a legal perspective, the operation of a live animal export trade does not – and cannot – accord with the standards of animal welfare legislation in Namibia and the expectations of the Namibian community. This practice undermines Namibian laws and standards.
The Namibian community is proud, engaged and switched on about our animal welfare standards. We pride ourselves on this fact. Allowing the live animal export trade to operate from Namibia is a regression of these standards. The trade is archaic and has no place in our country.
We are not alone in this sentiment. Globally, the tide is turning against live animal export because it does not accord with acceptable animal welfare standards, and it involves risks that simply cannot be mitigated.
In early September 2020, a live animal export vessel traveling from New Zealand to China capsized and disappeared with almost 6,000 cattle and 43 crew on board. There are two known survivors. New Zealand had already banned live export of animals for slaughter due to animal welfare concerns, however breeder animals were still permitted. On 3 September 2020, New Zealand suspended all live exports.
The industry is riddled in litigation wherever it seeks to operate. South Africa is currently in the High Court on the matter – the cause of action being a breach of South African animal welfare legislation.
In Israel, a bill to phase out the import of live animals passed the preliminary stages in the Knesset (Israel's parliament) — with support from the Prime Minister. The explanatory statement to the bill stated:
The animals are imported from Australia and Europe in long sea journeys that could last for weeks. During the journeys the animals are kept in high stocking density, covered in faeces, and suffer from heat stress, from rough seas and from other severe damages. Many of them get sick and many do not survive the journey.
Scientists and professional committees in Israel and worldwide all share the position that transport of live animals should be avoided when possible, the length of the voyages should be as short as possible and live transport should be substituted with meat trade.
In the European Union, the EU Parliament's Agriculture Committee voted to uphold and enforce their 2005 law which aims to protect animals during transport. Member States have already commenced banning live exports to various countries that do not meet European standards.
Australia – the world’s largest exporter of sheep and cattle – has banned live animal exports to the Middle East during the northern summer period since April 2019. This was in response to a major public exposé showing the extreme suffering of animals on board the vessels during this period. Extensive footage showed animals suffering (and dying) from overcrowding, heat exhaustion and lack of food and water. Since the exposé, numerous scientific and welfare reports have been commissioned by the Australian government which show that shipping sheep during these times exposes them to unacceptable heat stress risks, which led to the ban on summer shipments and drastic restrictions on the operation of the trade outside of these banned months.
Our serious concerns regarding animal welfare start with the long-haul land transport from South Africa and Botswana to the ports of Walvis Bay and Luderitz, and the caretaking at feedlots/quarantine stations in Namibia. These journeys start at the farm gate and add to an already long and arduous process if the animals are to continue on for live export. The trucking itself means animals experience extreme temperatures and long periods without rest, food or water.
Furthermore, the export of animals for slaughter gives rise to serious welfare problems — these relate to the conditions animals experience during the journey itself, resulting in extensive suffering and high death rates, and to the treatment of animals once they reach the importing countries. The main welfare concerns relate to:
Handling and holding prior to embarkation.
Stocking densities during the voyage that prevent animals from comfortably lying down or accessing food and water.
The conditions animals experience onboard ships, which often result in salmonellosis, heat stress, pneumonia, and high mortality rates. The animals suffer and routinely die on board the vessels from a condition called ‘shy feeding’ or ‘enteritis’. This is because the animals (mainly sheep) are moved to a pellet feed diet a few days before they are loaded on to the vessels. Many sheep do not take to the new feed and subsequently ‘starve’ and develop associated illnesses and conditions during the voyage.
Extreme changes in climatic conditions from the farm of origin, to the voyage (heat/humidity) and upon reaching the importing country.
Inadequate contingency planning for when animals are rejected at the ports of importing countries.
Poor handling and inhumane slaughter practices in the importing countries.
It is important to consider the risk of climatic changes and their impact on the animals, which can lead to heat stress and possible death. Heat stress is a serious condition and describes a state where animals are responding to excessive heat load (EHL). Normal tissue and organ function requires that body temperature be maintained within a relatively narrow range. If body temperature rises excessively, there is a risk of organ dysfunction and even death. Heat stroke is the life-threatening condition of the failure of an animal's thermoregulatory system in response to EHL. During voyages, heat and humidity can reach levels that cause heat stroke, resulting in sheep literally “cooking alive” in the holds of vessels. Many thousands of animal deaths have resulted from heat stroke and the associated egregious suffering which has led to the Australian ban, and the South African High Court litigation.
Australian and Namibian routes will cross the same heat risk zones during the voyages from South to North. Sheep are unable to regulate their body temperatures due to high temperatures in these zones – which remain persistently high overnight without relief – and high sea temperatures impacting conditions within the vessel. Not only can temperatures in the Middle East (particularly Kuwait) reach as high as 58 C, but the Namibian summer heat can reach extreme temperatures as well (further compounding the heat load), making neither country suitable for the proposed type of shipment.
It is important to note what happens to the animals once they reach importing countries, and in particular, Kuwait and the Gulf destinations.
The animals will be exported to countries where laws do not protect them from extreme cruelty and in some cases, where no animal protection laws exist at all.
In Kuwait and the Gulf countries specifically, it is common practice for sheep to be bought from livestock markets and then trussed and dragged into car boots in the scorching heat to be taken for home slaughter. Alternatively, the sheep are slaughtered on cement blocks or dirt floors in chaotic street and livestock markets, or in abattoirs. The animals are not stunned prior to slaughter, so most exported animals suffer through the pain and distress of having their throats cut while fully conscious. This applies all over Kuwait and the Gulf destinations – regardless of whether the slaughter is at a slaughterhouse, livestock market or private home. Many people involved in the slaughter are inexperienced, and this results in the animals being stabbed and cut multiple times.
Communicable Diseases, Unforeseen Events and Return Policy
The need for quarantine facilities to clear imported animals of any contagious diseases increases the risk of bringing diseases into Namibia.
Secondly, diseases which develop during transport may result in rejection by Namibian authorities, the shipper, or the receiving country.
If South Africa or Botswana have any outbreaks or questionable occurrences of contagious disease, there might be a refusal of entry to Namibia. As an example, the restrictions on import of livestock from South Africa due to Foot and Mouth Disease, which is a highly contagious viral disease that affects livestock. Affected animals are unable to walk or eat and are not allowed to be sold in the market.
Additionally, should a disease only be found/develop onboard the ship, rejection by the receiving Middle Eastern country may occur. Such was recently seen in Saudi Arabia when a ship was returned to Sudan and over 3000 animals perished from lack of food and fresh water.
The trade has come under severe scrutiny due to its failure to provide adequate food and water in the case of unforeseen weather impacts and delays. Ships have been found ‘parked’ for days in ports, and in some cases prohibited from off-loading the animals and asked to return. It is inhumane to allow these animals to be transported without enough food and water.
We also hold concerns about the environmental damage caused by the operation of the live export trade from Namibian ports. Passenger ships use black and grey water systems. Ships carrying livestock, however, dump untreated sewage directly into the ocean. For example, a ship full of cattle can produce hundreds of tonnes of sewage per day.
Furthermore, upon the death of animals onboard the, carcasses are discarded into the ocean either whole or after being processed through a grinder. Effects on ocean ecosystems are yet unknown.
Human Rights and Health Risks
Investigations have shown that, in addition to the inhumane treatment of animals, there are severe human rights concerns as well. Reports have revealed there is little regard shown to the seafarers’ living conditions who face severe health and safety risks aboard these ships, as recounted by Dr. Lynn Simpson. For example, there is no monitoring of ammonia levels during live transport of animals by sea and, with thousands of animals on board, they can reach potentially dangerous levels. Dr. Simpson has traveled on over 57 voyages as a livestock veterinarian and is an expert witness on the trade and its many issues.
Additionally, due to the lack of proper protocols, there are risks to the people in the importing countries. The long journeys and poor hygienic conditions increase the risk of Salmonella and E. coli, especially in the slaughterhouses and informal slaughter situations that would fail basic hygiene audits.
The SPCA expects that any company wishing to conduct business involving animals in Namibia will adhere to local legislation, including, but not limited to, the Animal Protection Act of 1962.
As explained earlier, the trade’s day-to-day operations of shipping live animals by sea breach international standards, federal regulations and state animal welfare laws.
Some stakeholders may support this potential trade opportunity providing that Namibian laws are adhered to and upheld. However, the reality is that Namibian government regulation does not have legal effect in foreign jurisdictions or international waters.
Animals Australia, an organization which has investigated the trade of shipping live sheep from Australia to the Middle East, has for decades gathered extensive evidence from importing countries documenting inhumane slaughter and handling practices that would be contrary to Australian laws and standards. These practices would undermine our Namibian laws and standards as well. It is impossible to ensure the humane slaughter of animals transported beyond Namibian jurisdiction.
The Namibian people are proud of the high standards we have set for the welfare of animals, and we strive to continue to improve our standards as more work nationally and locally is still needed. This initiative would effectively endorse an archaic trade that is struggling to maintain a social license to operate in this day and age. We submit that this trade has only been able to thrive because it operated under a veil of secrecy for many decades. This is no longer the case. Now that the global community is informed about the toll of this trade on animals (and humans and the environment), it is increasingly seeing countries close the door to it.
Domestic Financial Impact
It could be argued that there would be a positive financial impact in the form of more jobs for Namibians should the live export of animals from Namibia go into effect. However, studies show that by serving as a mere transit point, Namibia is in fact gaining far less of an economic boost than if local meat processing companies were involved.
The economic impact of functioning as a transit point would not compare to the number of people who might be employed in abattoirs, leather processing, butcher shops, and rendering plants. Additionally, the import of livestock from South Africa and Botswana would not benefit Namibian farmers.
As a precedent, in Australia, the world’s biggest exporter of live sheep, every economic report undertaken over the past decade has reached the same conclusions: exporting live animals ships jobs offshore, is risky for farmers and is not in Australia’s long-term economic interests. It also exposes Australia – a major meat exporter – to unavoidable reputational risk because the industry’s daily operations breach international standards. In less than a decade, live sheep export from Australia has dropped from around 6 million annually to less than 1 million today and their meat exports, including to the Middle East, continue to grow – now valued at eight times more than the live export trade. The live export of animals is a dying trade in Australia – not only because it causes unacceptable and unavoidable animal suffering, but because it is not financially advantageous.
In light of the above, the SPCA strongly opposes the operation of the live animal export trade by sea and would thoroughly intervene and investigate any intended keeping of animals on Namibian soil and shore.
The shipment of live animals by sea is an unsustainable and dying trade which has already significantly decreased in Australia, is being contested by animal welfare organizations in South African courts, the Israeli Parliament and the EU Commission, and is unwelcome by SPCA in Namibia.
The SPCA supports the practice of a chilled and frozen meat trade, a trade that is growing increasingly more popular, which would prevent the inherent suffering, inhumane treatment, and insufferable conditions endured by animals transported by sea. Furthermore, international export of chilled and frozen meat would increase ‘value-add’ and economic benefits for our country and maintain the international reputation of the Namibian meat industry.
The SPCA has been contacted by EnviroLeap Consulting CC on behalf of TradePort Namibia (Pty) Ltd regarding the Proposed Live Import-Transit-Export of Livestock from South Africa and Botswana to the Middle East by sea through the ports of Walvis Bay and Luderitz, Namibia. The proposed project would ship an estimated 125,000 livestock (cattle 5,000, sheep 70,000, and goats 50,000). The SPCA has requested that the consultants please confirm whether there is any association between TradePort Namibia (Pty) Ltd and Al Mawashi (Pty) Ltd and/or Livestock Transport and Trading Company KSC (KLTT).
We hold grave concerns that the entities in the proposal are using Namibia as their alternative supply chain despite dire animal welfare risks and implications for the animals – the same risks that are causing bans across the world.