Exclusive: livestock ships twice as likely to be lost as cargo vessels.

Carcasses line a beach after a livestock carrier loaded with 5,000 cows, capsized at Vila do Conde port in northern Brazil in 2015.

Carcasses line a beach after a livestock carrier loaded with 5,000 cows capsized at Vila do Conde port in northern Brazil in 2015. Photograph: Reuters

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/28/exclusive-livestock-ships-twice-as-likely-to-be-lost-as-cargo-vessels

Exclusive: livestock ships twice as likely to be lost as cargo vessels

Billion-dollar export trade puts lives of animals and crew at greater risk of ‘total loss’ through faulty design and inexperience

Ships carrying live animals are at least twice as likely to suffer a “total loss” from sinking or grounding as standard cargo vessels, the Guardian has found.

In the past year alone there have been two disasters involving animals in transit. Last November, at least 14,000 sheep drowned after the Queen Hind capsized en route to Saudi Arabia from Romania. And last month, Gulf Livestock 1, a carrier transporting almost 6,000 cattle, sank off the Japanese coast en route to China from New Zealand. Forty crew members remain missing and are presumed dead.

“With the Guardian’s shocking findings … [it’s] time for an open and honest assessment of an industry that has caused one crisis after another,” said Prof Kristen Stilt, director of Harvard’s animal law & policy program, currently writing a book about the transport of live animals. “That assessment should recognise that the transport of chilled and frozen meat is the way that nearly all meat travels in commerce today. The idea of sending live animals is a holdover from a bygone era.”

The global live export trade is worth nearly £16bn. For decades, campaigners have been calling on the EU to provide better protections for animals in transit, and an inquiry into the regulatory system is under way.

According to Guardian analysis, between January 2010 and December 2019 five livestock vessels were recorded as lost to sinking or irrevocable grounding, killing crew and animals. The total equates to just over 3% of the estimated 150 livestock carriers above 100 gross tonnes (GT) known to operate worldwide. The 100 GT measurement is used by the shipping industry to separate smaller vessels, often owned for pleasure, from larger, more probably commercial, ones.

The same loss calculation for the global cargo fleet of about 61,000 ships over 100 GT, shows that 471 vessels within that tonnage (excluding tugs, dredgers, fishing and passenger vessels), were lost to sinking or grounding in the same period – or less than 1%.

The Guardian’s risk calculations are based on historical data from insurer Allianz Global Corporate and Specialty’s Safety and Shipping Review 2020, analyst IHS Markit and the International Maritime Organization.

If the loss figure for livestock vessels expands to include two more vessels, sunk in December 2009 and September 2020, just outside the 10 years covered by the Allianz shipping safety report, used as a basis for the calculation, then the figure rises to 4.7%.

Ships carrying animals appear to be at more risk because of a number of factors. Estimates suggest that least 80% of livestock carriers were originally constructed for other purposes and have been converted, rather than purpose built. “Historically, the majority of livestock carriers have been converted container ships and ro-ros [roll-on/roll-off vessels]. But even passenger vessels and oil tankers have been turned into livestock carriers,” said Capt Samson Rathaur, senior marine risk consultant with Allianz Global Corporate and Specialty.

Adam Kent, managing director of market analyst Maritime Strategies International, offered similar figures. “Only about 20% of the current livestock fleet was originally designed to carry livestock,” he said.

The age of the world’s livestock carriers can also be a problem. Rathaur said many were often already near or at the end of their shipping life, making the fleet “one of the oldest sectors in shipping”. Kent estimated the livestock fleet’s average age at 36 years, 16 years more than the 20-year average age for the global merchant shipping fleet.

All of the livestock ships lost in this period were originally built for another purpose. In one case the ship – a ro-ro cargo vessel – had not even been converted to carry livestock. All but one of the livestock carriers lost were more than 20 years old.

Owners of higher-end livestock carriers argue against tarring all ships with the same brush. For example, Livestock Express, which owns 13 purpose-built ships and one conversion, says the average age of its ships is 14 years.

Livestock Express is owned by the Dutch company Vroon and is described as the “world’s biggest independent seaborne livestock carrier”.

Asked about higher livestock ship losses, Paul Pistorius, the company’s managing director, said he was “obviously aware” of a number of tragic incidents over the past 10 years. “All of these casualties have involved converted vessels, many of which have been older than 30 years.”

Kent said that while the Guardian’s calculation was “sound” and seemed to indicate “something amiss in the global livestock fleet”, the risk applied mainly to older conversions.

He said that “some very good quality conversions” existed, “though we don’t tend to hear about these ships very often, only about those with which there are problems”.

Another significant factor is that live animals move around in transit, unlike containers. “When these vessels are converted, animal behaviour is not always a factor in their design,” said Rathaur. Switching to a moving cargo without due consideration could affect a vessel’s stability, he said. “During heavy weather, animals can get distressed and move together to one side, which can potentially list the vessel.”

The tiers that many livestock conversions add to increase carrying capacity were another stability risk, he said. Manure and urine also had corrosive effects on steel. Fermenting manure releases moisture, ammonia and carbon dioxide. In conjunction with chloride naturally excreted by animals, the resulting slurry could be “very corrosive to steel structures and ill-maintained ships and can, over time, have a serious impact on the structural strength of the decks,” Rathaur added.

He said livestock shipping also had a human resources problem, because crews working on livestock carriers might have “little, if any” training or experience in livestock management before joining their first livestock ship.

Using data from the Paris MoU shipping inspector, the Guardian found the most recent three-year rate for livestock ships being detained after inspections was almost 9%. For general cargo/multipurpose ships that average was just less than 6.5%.

The Paris MoU is a memorandum of understanding between 27 countries that aims to eliminate substandard ships. It carried out almost 18,000 inspections in 2019. Detained ships are usually kept in port until problems identified by inspectors are resolved.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), a trade association, would not comment on the higher risk of loss for livestock ships exposed by the Guardian. In an emailed statement, the ICS marine director, Jonathan Spremulli, said: “We need all incidents to be thoroughly and robustly investigated and detailed reports to be made available as soon as possible so that lessons can be learned and appropriate actions taken to prevent similar occurrences.”

Spremulli added: “The ICS continues working with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to ensure ships are built, maintained and operated in accordance with a robust regulatory framework which is continually under review and being improved.”

In many, but not all cases, ship loss investigation reports are filed in the IMO’s Global Integrated Shipping Information System marine casualties and incidents database. Of the seven livestock ships lost since 2009, three reports are currently available. Two mention animal movement as an aggravating factor in already difficult circumstances.

All three reports contain safety improvement recommendations. Most specifically, the report for the Danny F II, lost in December 2009 with the deaths of 40 crew and 28,000 animals, suggests a set of rules be established “for the construction and/or classification of the Lifestock [sic] carriers” because a “large number of livestock vessels currently in service are the result of a conversion from different type of original designs”.

A spokesperson for the IMO said the suggestion had been considered by its maritime safety committee, but, for the “IMO to address this, a member state or states would need to submit a proposal for IMO to look further into this issue”.

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