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Cargo ship with 14,000 live sheep capsizes off the coast of Romania

More than 14,000 sheep are trapped inside the cargo ship Queen Hind, since the vessel overturned in the Black Sea, off the coast of Romania. All the crew, around 20 people of Syrian nationality, were taken off of the ship immediately, but it is still uncertain what will happen to the other thousands of animals that remain inside the vessel.

An operation involving the military, police, firefighters, divers and the Romanian coastguard is being held to try to get the animals out of the ship. In videos, it is possible to see animals hanging from the "windows" of the ship, some of them still alive. So far, only 32 animals have been rescued.

Some sheep that managed to escape from the ship were seen swimming in the sea, and then disappeared from view. Sheep are not great swimmers, as their thick fleece absorbs too much water and therefore they drown easily, said Richard Ehrhardt, a small ruminant specialist and animal science professor at Michigan State University, to The New York Times. Many of the sheep can unfortunately be seen drowned in some images.

The ship was heading to Saudi Arabia after leaving Midia Port, in Romania, on Sunday (24 November). Romania is the third-largest sheep breeder in the European Union and one of the largest live exporters, mostly targeting the Middle Eastern markets. Every year, about 70,000 sheep are exported from the country.

The causes of the disaster are still to be investigated, but the EU Director of Animals International, Gabriel Paun, alleged that the ship had been overloaded. For many years, animal rights organizations have tried to call attention to the lack of safety with this type of operation and have called for a ban on live animal commercial export, which is considered to be one of the cruelest activities related to animal production. We'll show you why.

1. Animals spend days and even weeks traveling

Usually, animals that are transported are only babies or teenagers. They are born and, after reaching a certain age, their journey will begin. First, they are transported by trucks from the farms where they were born until arrival at the ports, and then from the ports they go aboard vessels for a trip that can take days and even weeks. It only gets worse when we consider the conditions they endure during this whole period.

2. Sanitary and welfare conditions are terrible

Basically, there are virtually no sanitary or welfare precautions. The trucks or vessels are so crowded with animals that they can't walk or lie down, and when they try to do so there's a risk they'll end up trampled and dead. These ships and trucks are usually open, which leaves animals exposed to extreme temperatures and climate conditions such as intense cold, wind, and they may get wet from the rain or seawater, or burnt by exposure to the sun; or, in the ships where they are in a closed environment, there's no temperature control system.

Animals defecate in there and, because of the number of individuals and the rare level of cleaning, they end up covered in feces and excrement. Food ends up dirty as well, water is scarce and when it's available, the access to it is hampered by the cows or sheep in the way. Because of the ordure, the ammonia smell is unbearable, which makes it hard to breathe.

The NGO Animals' Australia has been fighting for the end of animal exports for a long time. This video of one of their investigations on board of a vessel shows why:

3. Many animals die on the way, others are born

Many animals suffer from injuries and diseases and die before arriving at the destination, without receiving proper veterinary care, and are left in their pens to rot or are thrown into the sea. Some vessels even have a grinder where they throw animals, and there are reports of animals being thrown in there and then to the sea while still alive, causing agonizing pain.

Unfortunately, since there's no control about animal's pregnancies, investigations have even shown animals being born in these awful conditions.

4. Simply put, it's dangerous

Recently, there was a case of a Chilean boat that was stranded with 244 cows, and many of them ended up dying of fatigue and dehydration. In Brazil, a vessel carrying 5 thousand cows sank close to the Port of Barbacena, in Pará, north of the country. A sad video showed the desperation of the animals trying to escape the ship and swim until the shore, many drowned and the ones that managed to arrive to shore were killed and consumed by the population.

5. Countries can't assure with which techniques animals will be slaughtered

Have you ever stopped to think about WHY producers would want to export live animals? The answer is usually because they want to control how these animals will be killed, to make sure the slaughter will follow some religious precepts. Therefore, it's not possible to be assured that the countries where the animals will be slaughtered will follow compliance to even the most basic welfare standards, such as stunning the animals before cutting their throats.

6. There are huge environmental impacts

Can you imagine the amount of manure a cow generates each day? Multiply this amount by the number of animals inside a vessel and by the number of days the trip will last. Now imagine that, if people clean the place, which would be important for animals, they'll dump the excrement directly into the sea.

Not to mention the footprint of animal farming in general. Livestock is accountable for the emission of more greenhouse gases than the whole transport industry of the world combined! In 2016, only three of the biggest meat companies in the world — JBS, Cargill and Tyson — were accountable for more greenhouse gas emissions than France. The five biggest are responsible for more pollutants than the main oil companies, like Exxon, Shell and BP.

Help us end animal cruelty! Sign Animals Australia's petition here. And help all animals by ditching meat, dairy and eggs.

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