A Filipino crew member believed to be onboard Gulf Livestock 1 is rescued by a Japan Coast Guard boat. Picture: JAPAN COAST GUARD/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS
A Filipino crew member believed to be onboard Gulf Livestock 1 is rescued by a Japan Coast Guard boat. Picture: JAPAN COAST GUARD/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

Sydney/Tokyo — A cargo ship with 43 crew and 5,800 cattle on board that overturned during stormy weather in the East China Sea has renewed concern about animal welfare issues in the live export trade in Australia and New Zealand.

The Japan coast guard continued rescue efforts with four patrol vessels and one aircraft on Friday, in a bid to find at least 41 crew members who are still missing. There are no plans to halt the search, the coast guard said.

The Gulf Livestock 1 capsized after engine trouble and as a powerful storm swept through the region, according to seafarer Sareno Edvardo, who was rescued on Wednesday. A second person pulled from the water on Friday was pronounced dead, according to the coast guard. The vessel was transporting cattle from New Zealand to China when it entered the path of Typhoon Maysak.

On Thursday, New Zealand suspended all live exports in the wake of the incident, local media reported. The government is already reviewing the industry and considering several options for new regulations including a potential total ban on specific types of exports. Any shipments of animals for slaughter already require the approval of the director-general of the Mmistry for primary industries.

New Zealand-based animal rights group SAFE called for a total ban on live exports. “This is a high-risk trade that puts the lives of animals at risk,” campaigns manager Marianne Macdonald said in a statement.

“Our thoughts are with the families who are missing their loved ones, but we have to recognise the risk to animals that the live export trade brings,” she added in a separate statement.

Australasian Global Exports, the Melbourne-based trading company that chartered the Panamanian ship, said in a statement that its primary concern is for the safety and well-being of the ship’s crew. It declined to comment further.

Rigorous approvals processes are in place for all live exports, from both an animal welfare and maritime perspective, Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council CEO Mark Harvey-Sutton said by phone on Friday. However, “now is not the time” for a debate on animal welfare in the sector. “The families are our priority at the moment.” 

The animals on the Gulf Livestock were being shipped for use in China’s dairy industry, Harvey-Sutton said.

New Zealand’s livestock exports, including cattle, deer, goats and sheep, were worth about NZ$54m ($36m) in the year to end-June 2019, according to a government report. It exported about 23,500 cattle during the year, the bulk of which were shipped to China.

Australia’s live export sector is far bigger and is worth about A$800m ($580m) a year, according to the government. It shipped and air freighted almost 2.3-million live animals in the 2018/2019 financial year, including about 1-million sheep and 960,000 cattle, to destinations throughout Asia and the Middle East.

“The incident underscores the risks sometimes involved in conducting our agricultural trade both domestically and internationally,” Australia’s minister for agriculture, David Littleproud, said in an e-mailed statement. “These risks extend far beyond the farm gate.”


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