Capsized Cattle Ship: New Zealand Suspends Cow Exports – The New York Times

New Zealand has suspended the export of live cattle after a ship that left its shores with 43 crew members and nearly 6,000 cows capsized off Japan this week, raising fresh questions about the safety and ethics of transporting livestock by sea.

Animals rights activists say the move did not go far enough because the transnational livestock trade is rife with abuses.

“Ultimately, this is a trade that has to be banned,” said Will Appelbe, a spokesman for SAFE, an animal welfare group in New Zealand.

The ship, the Gulf Livestock 1, was carrying 39 crew members from the Philippines and two each from Australia and New Zealand. It left Napier, New Zealand, in mid-August and sent a distress call early Wednesday near southern Japan, setting off a two-day air-and-sea rescue mission.

Two crew members have been rescued and hospitalized. A third man pulled unconscious from the sea was pronounced dead at a Japanese pier, the Coast Guard said. The carcasses of at least a dozen cows were seen floating in the water on Friday, as well as a life jacket.

As news of the missing ship circulated in New Zealand, the country’s Ministry for Primary Industries said that it would temporarily stop considering export applications for live cattle as it tried to understand what happened during the ship’s fateful journey. The statement did not elaborate or give a timeline.

The ministry’s move was the latest that the remote Pacific nation has taken in recent years to regulate the contentious practice of transporting livestock across the ocean, often to China. That country is the biggest consumer of beef from New Zealand and neighboring Australia, another big cattle exporter. Demand for red meat boomed last year after an outbreak of African swine fever disrupted pork production in China, forcing its importers to look for other suppliers.

China overtook the United States in 2019 as the biggest market for New Zealand beef, although the coronavirus pandemic stymied its demand in the first quarter of this year.

New Zealand has placed a web of restrictions on the export of livestock for slaughter for years, effectively outlawing the trade. But many live animals are sent abroad for breeding. Nearly 40,000 cattle have been exported so far this year, according to the ministry’s data.

There has been no “export of livestock for slaughter purposes” since 2007 in New Zealand, a spokeswoman for the Ministry for Primary Industries said on Friday. Exceptions are allowed if the ministry’s director general “judges that the risks can be adequately managed,” according to its website, but the ministry says that no exporter has ever applied.

The animals on board the Gulf Livestock 1 were thought to have been sold abroad for breeding, not slaughter; SAFE has said they were most likely pregnant.

But Mr. Appelbe, of SAFE, said that sending livestock abroad for breeding did not prevent them from being slaughtered in the end.

“It’s not like they get loaded back onto a ship to New Zealand when they’re done,” he said.

The carcass of a cow floating about 75 miles northwest of Amami Oshima, Japan, in the East China Sea on Thursday.
The carcass of a cow floating about 75 miles northwest of Amami Oshima, Japan, in the East China Sea on Thursday.Credit…Japan Coast Guard, via Associated Press
The Gulf Livestock 1 is registered in Panama.Credit…Graham Flett/Associated Press

“When it was capsizing, an onboard announcement instructed us to wear a life jacket,” he said, according to the Coast Guard. “So I wore a life jacket and jumped into the sea.”

A second crew member, Jay-nel Rosals, was found alive on Friday on a life raft near the Japanese island of Kodakarajima, news agencies reported. Earlier Friday, the Coast Guard said a man plucked from the sea had died by the time he was taken to a pier on Amami Oshima.

Aurora Almendral contributed reporting.

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