Photo: Animals International
On Sunday, more than 14,600 sheep drowned in the Black Sea after a ship overturned shortly after leaving Midia harbour in Romania. It’s the second time this year the Romanian Government has been in the spotlight for exporting live sheep under critical conditions, and we urge the EU Commission to start infringement proceedings against the Member State.
By dawn of Monday, a rescue operation involving police, firefighters and the Romanian coast guard had only been able to save 33 animals from the cold waters around Queen Hind, which was bound for Saudi Arabia. The ship, which was built in 1980, was approved this March by the Romanian National Veterinary and Food Authority to travel with the live animals despite being outdated, not built for live transport, and encountering engine problems as recently as last year.
Last summer Romania approved another shipment of 70,000 sheep to the Persian Gulf, despite the journey not being compliant with EU rules due to the extremely high temperatures and humidity in the destination countries and during the entire voyage. On that occasion the EU Commissioner for Health and Food safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, intervened to try to stop the export, citing animal welfare concerns – but his call fell on deaf ears.
Little is known so far about the reaction of the Romanian central authorities to this latest tragedy. The Agriculture Minister has reacted only 24 hours later, denying responsibility and deferring the case to the transport ministry, veterinary authority and water ministry. Only 33 animals have been rescued up to now, according to information gathered from authorities by Eurogroup for Animals’ member organisation Animals International.
Animals International’s director in the EU, Gabriel Paun, insists that “Tragedies like this will continue to occur regardless of improvements and better law enforcement. There is just one way to end this risky, unnecessary and barbaric trade: replace live export with the trade in meat and carcasses.”
“Infringement proceedings are needed to ensure a proper application on the EU law on transport and the effective protection of the animals,” said Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals. “It is high time the Commission intervened, both by tackling maladministration by Romania and, for the longer term, puts forward a concrete strategy to replace live transport with a meat and carcasses only trade”.
Romania’s main livestock breeder and exporter association, ACEBOP, has called for an urgent investigation into the overturning of Queen Hind. “Our association is shocked by the disaster,” ACEBOP president Mary Pana told AFP news agency. “If we cannot protect livestock during long distance transports, we should outright ban them.” There is a growing consensus among Member States on the need to shift to a meat and carcasses only trade; and the example of New Zealand shows that banning live export and favouring another way of trading is already possible.
With around 2.4 million sheep exported each year, Romania is the world’s busiest harbour for live animals – but this tragedy is further proof that the Member State has no protocols in place for such disasters. Another three vessels were loading animals when the tragedy occurred. While merchant ships are often scrapped when they have been working for 20 years, there are livestock carriers currently in use that are 50 or more years old.
Francesca Porta, Farm Animals Programme Officer