More than 850 cattle that have spent months adrift in the Mediterranean are no longer fit for transport and should be killed, according to a confidential report by Spanish government veterinarians.
A lawyer for the cattle ship’s management company told the Guardian on Saturday that he planned to resist the move, even as a video from the port appears to show preparations being made to unload the cattle.
The cows have been kept in what an animal rights activist described as “hellish” conditions on the Karim Allah, which docked at the south-eastern Spanish port of Cartagena on Thursday after struggling for two months to find a buyer for the cattle.
The report, compiled after Spanish officials were able to board the vessel earlier this week, said that the captain had told them of 22 deaths among the 895 calves on-board. Another nine cattle were not accounted for, it said. The ship’s management said the calves, all bulls, are about seven to eight months old now.
The report concluded that the animals had suffered from the lengthy journey and were generally in a poor state. Some of them were unwell and not fit for transport outside of the European Union, nor should they be allowed into the EU, it said. Euthanasia would be the best solution for their health and welfare, it concluded.
The lawyer, Miquel Masramón who represents the ships’ management company, said on Saturday that it appeared preparations to kill the cattle were being made at the port. In a video Masramón sent to the Guardian, a metal ramp can be seen leading down from a ship toward a series of metal containers lined up along a dock wall.
The lawyer said the ship’s managers will attempt to resist any move to unload the cattle and that he is in the process of contacting Lebanese authorities. The vessel is owned by Khalifeh Livestock Trading and managed by Talia Shipping Line, both based in Lebanon, while the cattle are owned by a third party.
“In the video you see the closed containers, they are not for living livestock,” said Masramón on Saturday. “We have no official information, but we think they will discharge the animals and then kill them with electrical guns.”
He added that blood samples taken from the cattle on Wednesday night by Talia Shipping Line, to test for a bovine disease called bluetongue, had been blocked at the port by Spanish authorities and were not allowed to proceed to a lab for analysis.
The insect-borne bluetongue virus causes lameness and haemorrhaging among cattle but does not affect humans. The Spanish ministry’s report counted 864 animals alive on board the Karim Allah this week. Twenty-two cows had died at sea with two corpses still onboard, it noted, adding that the remains of the others that died were chopped up and thrown overboard during the journey.
Spain’s agricultural ministry did not reply to a request for comment on Saturday.
Masramón previously told the Guardian the shippers aimed to resell the cattle outside the EU if they tested negative for bluetongue. Talia Shipping Line estimates that current losses on the cattle transport could be up to €1m. Spanish authorities have said the company was also liable for the cost of killing the animals and destroying the carcasses. The company estimates this will cost them a further €1m.
“We are trying to resist, if they take the animals, and to get a new private expert animal health report,” said Masramón. He added, however, that if Spanish authorities were to remove the animals on health grounds they would probably succeed.
“In my opinion the animal health regulations will prevail [over maritime ones] and they, [the] Spanish officials, will be able to take the animals and cull them,” he said.
Masramón said although he was not an animal health technician, he did not agree with the official Spanish veterinary report released on Friday. “From what I understand, none of the diseases [noted in the report] are worth euthanizing the cattle for. They are normal after two months at seas and the animals could recover.”
In an interview, a source close to a second cattle ship, the Elbeik, which has similarly been at sea for two months since leaving the Spanish port of Tarragona with a cargo of nearly 1,800 cows, said he was watching the Karim Allah developments closely.
The Elbeik is currently moored off the Turkish Cypriot port of Famagusta having loaded animal fodder and straw. The source said that once the loading was complete, the Elbeik would probably sail to Greece to load bunker fuel for the ship.
Asked about apparent moves by the Spanish authorities to begin unloading and killing the cattle, the source said the health problems identified by the official Spanish vet report could “easily heal”. He said the decision, if taken, to kill all the animals was “amazing”. He added: “If the animals can heal why would they want to do that?”