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Thousands of Animals Set Adrift on the Mediterranean Sea Since December

February 23, 2021

*UPDATE 3/23/21: Animal Equality Spain has obtained a copy of the veterinary inspection report from the Elbeik transport ship, the remaining live animal transport ship that has been at sea since December after being denied entry by multiple countries due to a suspected disease.

The report reveals that due to the long and grueling trip, the remaining 1,610 animals, who were being transported to be sold for meat, were in poor condition, many of them severely malnourished and dehydrated. The findings included:

  • Animals wasting away. Those most affected could no longer open their eyes or respond to stimuli.
  • Starving animals forced to eat the corpses of their companions.
  • Calves with skin wounds.
  • Animals with broken horns and fractured tails.
  • Animals fighting each other to reach water when the broken drinking system was activated
  • 25% of animals on board have skin conditions.
  • Animals with eye infections and ulcers.
  • Animals without anywhere clean or dry to lie down, their hooves covered in liquid feces.

The report ordered the captain of the ship to immediately remove the bodies of dead animals, and provide water to all of the animals. The animals will reportedly be euthanized today, and they will finally be at peace.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Animal Equality is urgently calling for a ban on live animal transport, and our petition in Spain has reached over 40,000 signatures. While they may not all be transported overseas, nearly all animals in the meat industry suffer needlessly and face a terrifying death at the slaughterhouse. You can help save animals here at home simply by leaving them off your plate. Going plant-based is now easier than ever.

*UPDATE 3/18/21: The Spanish government finally ordered the Elbeik transport ship to return to Cartagena, Spain to slaughter the remaining 1,700 calves on board. The ship has been at sea for three months trying to find a buyer for the animals (who were being sold for meat) after multiple countries had rejected them due to suspected disease. The animals will be killed at the port’s temporary slaughterhouse that was set up to slaughter the 864 animals who had been aboard the second ship in this situation, the Karim Allah.

We have just learned that the Spanish government became aware that the animals weren’t going to be accepted by a buyer in Turkey back in late December of 2020, and did nothing to inform the ship or the European Commission. As a result, the animals and crew have been aboard the cramped ship for months. One hundred animals have already died due to the conditions aboard, and the humans have reached their physical limits.

*UPDATE 3/9/21: The Elbeik freighter continues to drift through the Mediterranean Sea, seeking a resolution for the 1700 calves that have been onboard since December. After the outcome of Karim Allah, whose animals were slaughtered last weekend in the Port of Cartagena, it is more urgent than ever to find a solution.

THE PRESSURE MOUNTS: Thanks to pressure from Compassion in World Farming and the Animal Welfare Foundation on the European Commission, Greek authorities have finally allowed the ship to dock and load fuel and food for the animals and crew, as the ship was in urgent need. The animal protection organizations, as well as the ship’s management itself, are asking Greek authorities for veterinarians to be allowed on board to check the status of the animals—a request that has so far been denied. 

*UPDATE 3/5/21: The journey of the cows and calves of Karim Allah seems to have come to an end. After suffering two and a half months of drifting across the Mediterranean, today Spain’s High Court of Justice of Madrid has agreed to deny the suspension of the slaughter order of the animals requested by the transport company. The 864 surviving animals, out of 895 who were shipped originally, will be slaughtered at the dock of the Port of Escombreras in Cartagena in compliance with the order issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. A tent has been installed at the foot of the Karim Allah, inside which they will be slaughtered, and dozens of containers will be used for the removal of the carcasses.

HEALTHY ANIMALS TO BE KILLED: The cows will be slaughtered despite the fact that they are likely healthy. According to the ship’s spokespeople, the animals’ positive health was verified by external veterinarians hired by the ship, and that the Spanish veterinary authorities have not performed any tests on any of the animals on board.

*UPDATE 3/4/21: The Elbeik, which left the port of Tarragona in December loaded with 1,776 cows and calves, will not return to Spain until the fate of the animals aboard the Karim Allah is known. The Karim Allah is currently docked in the Port of Cartagena and the 864 animals onboard will be slaughtered in the coming days by order of Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

THE ELBIEK WAITS: According to reports, those responsible for the animals on the Elbeik assure that they will continue to search for a new destination to sell the animals they carry onboard. Recently, the ship docked off the coast of the island of Crete, Greece, to load food and straw for the animals. The ship had been scheduled to arrive in Spain on March 8 but that has now been delayed pending the outcome of the animals onboard the Karim Allah.

DIRE CONDITIONS: The ship reports that due to poor maritime conditions and the long journey they have endured since December, more than 50 animals have already died onboard the Elbeik. Another cause is that, unlike on the Karim Allah, the Elbeik is fully loaded with animals so they have less room to move.

WHAT WE’RE SAYING: “The situation in which the animals find themselves on the Elbeik ship is tragic. We demand that the Government of Spain put an end to this scandal by prohibiting the export of live animals to countries outside the European Union,” says Silvia Barquero, Executive Director of Animal Equality Spain.

*UPDATE, 3/1/21: A veterinary inspection carried out aboard the Karim Allah livestock ship by Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food doesn’t mention any sign of bluetongue disease, but found that due to their prolonged time spent on board, the physical state of the animals does not allow them to be exported again. Therefore, the ministry has ordered all 864 cows to be slaughtered.

The inspection was carried out together with agents from Spain’s Nature Protection Service (Seprona) of the Civil Guard and customs services.

ANIMAL EQUALITY PROTEST: On February 27, Animal Equality protested the treatment of these animals in front of the Port of Cartagena, where the ship has been docked, and demanded the government of Spain ban the live transport of animals to countries outside the European Union.

Animal Equality, joined by local Spanish activists, protests live animal transport in Spain.

*ORIGINAL POST: After being refused by Libya, 2,671 cows and calves have been drifting through the Mediterranean Sea since they left Spain in December 2020. Libya rejected the animals for fear of them having bluetongue disease, a noncontagious, insect-borne, viral disease that affects mammals like cows and sheep, but not humans.

THE DETAILS: Traveling on two ships—the Elbeik and the Karim Allah—the animals left Spain in December headed to slaughterhouses in Libya. However, Libyan port authorities refused the animals entry after their inspections apparently discovered signs of the animals suffering from bluetongue. The animals, unable to find another country willing to accept them, have been essentially trapped at sea without food or water ever since. Unfortunately, many cows and calves have died due to these circumstances, while the rest that are still living continue to suffer. 

HUNDREDS TO BE EUTHANIZED: Following complaints made by the Animal Welfare Foundation, Animal Equality, and Enpa, as well as a request of the European Commission, Spain finally agreed to let one of the ships (the Karim Allah) dock in order to euthanize the animals that remain alive. Sources consulted by the Animal Welfare Foundation report that there are at least 100 dead animals on board the Karim Allah that may be being thrown into the sea. The other ship, the Elbeik, continues to sail near Cyprus and claims to be partially loaded.

THE HORROR OF LIVE TRANSPORT: Our investigations have routinely revealed the immense pain and suffering animals endure during live transport journeys, especially those by sea. Usually done without food or water, animals are shuttled across long distances by truck and boat, with many perishing along the way. Animals who die at sea usually end up being tossed into the water, with some even falling in while still alive. Those animals are presumably left to drown. Animals like the distressed cows on the Elbeik and Karim Allah aren’t unique and their traumas are bound to be repeated, given the lack of regulations on their export.

WHAT WE’RE SAYING: “It is imperative that the Spanish Government investigate who is ultimately responsible for this tragedy and hold them to account. My heart breaks for all those animals who have already died and for those who remain trapped on these ships. To ensure animals no longer needlessly suffer on these unregulated journeys, the export of live animals must be immediately banned,” says Sharon Núñez, President of Animal Equality.

WHAT HAPPENS NOW: While the fate of these poor animals has already been sealed, we can still help future animals from suffering from similar cruelty. Animal Equality is working tirelessly in Europe to encourage the Continent’s government to end the abusive practice of raising animals meant to be shipped overseas and across borders. Thankfully, some progress is being made, with the UK’s government moving toward a live export ban. There is still so much more that needs to be done, and as we have just seen with these poor calves and cows, animals are continuous in peril from these arduous shipments. You can make a difference. Please, use your voice to blow the whistle on the horrors of live transport and share these stories and our investigations whenever you can. And please, leave animals off your plate. 


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