Little changed after Karim Allah and Elbeik live animal transport disasters

Baby cows close together on the ship one lying the rest standing in dirt
Male calves have been cramped on the ship Karim Allah, photo: Talia Shipping Line / Reuters

Nearly six months after the suffering and slaughter of the young cows of two livestock ships, Karim Allah and Elbeik, little has changed for animals exported alive for slaughter, or for fattening ahead of slaughter.

The ships left Spain in December with in total almost 3000 young bulls, heading for Turkey and Libya. They were denied access to ports due to fears the cows carried a bovine disease called blue tongue. 

“We would like to inform you that the animals in the said shipment cannot be accepted by our country,” a Turkish veterinarian mailed the Spanish authorities on 21 December.

But instead of calling the ships back, Spain let them leave European waters, causing the animals on Karim Allah to suffer for two months at sea and the Elbeik for three months at sea.

For months, the ships were on their way from one Mediterranean port to another, seeking either to sell the animals or, later on, find enough food and water to keep them alive. 

“We have been inside these vessels, after a few days the animals are already covered in shit, imagine after two months,” Maria Boada-Saña, a veterinarian at the Animal Welfare Foundation(AWF), told The Animal Reader when her organization first learned about the animals stuck at sea on the Karim Allah and Elbeik.

Finally, after international online and offline outrage over the suffering of these animals, the two EU-approved livestock ships were ordered to return to their original departure point, Spain, where the animals were killed.

The Karim Allah arrived first at the Spanish port of Cartagena. In late February, the country’s agriculture ministry ordered all the young bulls on board to be killed. The Elbeik arrived a few weeks later, in mid-March, and the cows were again ordered to be slaughtered.

Spanish government 
Official Ministry of Agriculture figures showed live animal exports from Spain rose 7.3% in volume between January and April this year, compared to the same period in 2020, indicating that the Karim Allah and Elbeik disasters had little to no effect on the trade.

Asked if changes were being made to avoid similar animal shipping catastrophes in the future, the agriculture ministry said it was in the process of changing Spanish law governing animal health and protection standards during transport.

The changes, it said, will strengthen official controls, ensure compliance with the regulations, and require live animal exporters to register contingency plans in case of unexpected journey disruptions.

In a related move, the agriculture ministry said it would sign an agreement with the country’s Merchant Navy to improve the support and controls around animals at sea.

ANIT Committee
Animal welfare organizations were outraged by the events, but, despite the many calls to ban or better regulate live animal export, no official European changes to prevent a similar situation have been made yet.

However, the inaction may be deceptive, said MEP Tilly Metz. Metz is currently chairing the European Parliament’s ANIT Committee inquiry into the welfare problems faced by animals during transport.

“Although nothing has officially changed yet, crises like the Elbeik and the Karim Allah have raised and continue to raise” both public and policy makers awareness about the urgent need to change the current system of live animal export, said Metz.

As an example of what raised awareness can lead to, Metz pointed to calls in June this year by three EU member states – Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg – to end the long-distance transport of live animals. And, said Metz, “we hope more will follow.”

Looking ahead, Martina Stephany, director of farm animals and nutrition with the animal welfare organization Four Paws, said her organization was “hopeful that when the ANIT [committee] publishes its final report later this year, it will call for a complete ban on live animal exports.”

The final ANIT Committee report and recommendations are expected to be released in December. After that, before any suggestions potentially become law, the report must be voted on by the European Parliament, possibly during its January 2022 session.

Elbeik caught fire
For the operators of the Elbeik, any future ban on the transport of live animals will be less of a concern. 

The ship was declared a total loss after the ship caught fire while at anchor in the Spanish port of Tarragona on 6 August. No crew or animals were harmed, but concerns were raised that the fire’s origin could be suspicious.

“Yes, the fire [on the Elbeik] certainly looks suspicious,” said York Ditfurth, president of AWF. “It could have been set to claim the insurance, or for another reason. At a minimum, we believe an investigation should be carried out.”

An AWF shipping expert also noted that the ship is 54 years old, “and the owner is likely facing considerable costs after the unexpected three-month voyage with the cattle,” Ditfurth added. 

The owner of the Elbeik did not reply to a request for comment on the suspicions about the fire’s origin. 


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