Biosecurity: SA livestock industry worried about Al Mawashi ship

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The Al Kuwait, a live export ship carrying 19 000 cattle from Brazil to Iraq, recently departed from the Port of Cape Town. Despite its departure, the Red Meat Producers Organisation (RPO) continues to express concerns that the vessel’s presence may have jeopardised South Africa’s biosecurity.

Prof Frikkie Maré, CEO of the RPO, expressed concern that biosecurity could have been breached by the recent movement of people on and off the ship. He also warned that the country’s biosecurity could be at risk if animal carcasses were taken from the vessel and disposed of in South Africa. He said, “We are working hard to restore South Africa’s animal health status with the World Organisation for Animal Health (former OIE) and we cannot handle more biosecurity issues.”

The live export vessel – which has no ties to the South African livestock industry – docked in Cape Town to restock animal feed, medication and food supplies for the crew. However, the stench emanating from the ship was so intense that members of the public contacted the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA), which obtained a court order to board the vessel for investigation.

While the NSPCA confirmed that the vessel had around 19 000 head of cattle onboard, the Al Mawashi website states that Al Kuwait only has a carrying capacity of 15 000 cattle (or 80 000 sheep), which is 4 000 fewer than was on board.

  • (Photographs supplied by Cape Flat Stories/Facebook)

Al Kuwait is owned by Al Mawashi, a Kuwait-based multinational company known for live animal exports. AgriOrbit has since verified that the vessel has left the Port of Cape Town.

Prof Maré said it was important to stress that this vessel and its cargo had nothing to do with South African exports of live animals. “Al Mawashi is an international company and it is important to note that this current issue has nothing to do with Al Mawashi South Africa, which organises and co-ordinates South African livestock exports.”

Animal welfare concerns

Prof Maré expressed unease about the welfare of the livestock on board the vessel. Even though the ship’s situation was not a South African issue, the RPO was concerned for the welfare of the animals on board. “The RPO acknowledges animals’ rights as stipulated in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and believes that all animals should be treated accordingly. As primary producers, our animals are our pride, and it grieves us to see animals that are treated in such a poor manner.”

Various entities have voiced their concern over the animals’ welfare and the NSPCA has labelled it the ‘death ship’, stating that the society condemned the export of live animals.

“The NSPCA team, including NSPCA veterinary consultant, Dr Bryce Marock, boarded the vessel on Sunday, 18 February 2024, working with the co-operation of the captain, to assess the welfare of the animals,” said Jacques Peacock, spokesperson of the NSPCA. He added that they acknowledged the public’s concern over the stench emanating from the live export vessel.

“The smell reached the city centre and surrounds and it was indicative of the awful conditions the animals endured, having already spent two and a half weeks on board, with a build-up of manure and ammonia. The stench onboard is unimaginable, yet the animals face this every single day.”

To make matters worse, Cape Town was hit by a heatwave over the weekend according to Weather SA.

While the ship left the harbour on 20 February 2024, Daily Maverick reported that the vessel would still be at sea for at least another 24 days before it reaches its destination – the Port of Basra in Iraq.

Live exports from South Africa

A protocol for live animal export is established in South Africa, developed jointly by the government and the industry, incorporating over 300 industry contributions to ensure equitable exports. Efforts are now being made to convert this protocol into law.

Prof Maré said that, since the country’s only livestock export harbour was East London, the Eastern Cape RPO has established a livestock export forum which, together with the NSPCA and other institutions, ensures that exports from South Africa take place according to protocol.

Prof Maré explained that the RPO’s endorsement of live animal exports from South Africa is due to the essential alternative market it provides, enhancing competitiveness in the local market. Nevertheless, animals needed to be handled in accordance with their rights and the necessary protocols followed to ensure their welfare.

“The RPO is a member of the Livestock Welfare Co-ordinating Committee (LWCC) of South Africa and therefore works under its guidance,” Prof Maré said. He added that the RPO also had its own Code of Best Practice, which means that producers are supplied with guidelines on how animals should be treated.

“In the end, live exports from South Africa by ship have a very good record with mortalities on the ship being lower than mortalities in domestic feedlots.”

The RPO was previously involved in a case involving Al Mawashi’s live exports from South Africa to Kuwait, Prof Maré admitted. “At the time, the NSPCA opened a case against Al Mawashi South Africa with the hope of permanently banning all livestock exports. The RPO became involved as a friend of the court to represent the position and situation of red meat producers. The court ruled in favour of Al Mawashi and exports could continue. – Susan Marais, Plaas Media

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