Had history of engine failure
AMAMI OSHIMA ISLAND, Japan––The Gulf Livestock 1, a Panamanian-flagged converted container ship carrying 5,867 two-year-old heifers and 43 human crew, capsized and sank on September 2, 2020 in the East China Sea, about 100 nautical miles west of Amami Oshima Island, Japan, the first survivor to be rescued told the Japanese coast guard.
Gulf Livestock 1 chief officer Sareno Edvarodo, 45, was among 39 Filipino crew members who lifted anchor on August 14, 2020 in Napier, New Zealand, with two Australians and two New Zealanders, expecting to deliver the cattle to Jingtang, Tangshan, China on September 11, 2020.
Seventeen days into the voyage, they were well ahead of schedule, with more than 90% of the total distance behind them.
Sailed into typhoon
Crossing paths with Typhoon Maysak about halfway between Okinawa and the Japanese mainland, despite days of warning that the Category Four typhoon was coming, the Gulf Livestock 1 reportedly sent a single distress signal at about 1:40 in the morning on September 2, 2020.
The signal prompted the Japanese coast guard to dispatch two ships and two aircraft to begin a search-and-rescue attempt.
Edvarodo, found floating in a life jacket, reportedly told rescuers that the Gulf Livestock 1 rolled over in high waves after suffering a catastrophic engine failure.
The Gulf Livestock 1 had a single propulsion engine. Without that engine, the top-heavy vessel would no longer have been able to steer into the waves to stay upright.
A second crew member was found floating, unconscious, early on September 4, 2020, but died soon after arrival at a Japanese hospital.
A third crew member, Jay-Nel Rosals , 30, of the Philippines, was found late September 4, 2020, drifting on a life raft about a mile and a quarter from Kodakara Island, the smallest of the Tokara islands, with a resident human population of 49.
At least one dead cow floated up on Amami Oshima Island.
BBC News reported that “Cattle carcasses have also been found floating in the area where the ship is believed to have sunk.”
Worst live transport disaster in just over nine months
The loss of the Gulf Livestock 1 with the entire cattle cargo was the worst live transport disaster since the drowning deaths of more than 14,350 sheep on November 24, 2019 aboard the Queen Hind, an allegedly overloaded livestock transport that capsized while turning in the port of Midia, Romania.
Similar losses of live animals aboard ship are hardly rare, though the deaths more often occur from overheating and disease outbreaks than from sinkings.
Wayne Langford, animal welfare spokesperson for Federated Farms of Golden Bay, New Zealand, told Guardian correspondents Justin McCurry in Tokyo and Eleanor Ainge Roy in Queenstown, New Zealand, that while live cattle export is big business in Australia, it is “a small market in New Zealand, with fewer than 10 ships leaving with cargo each year,” carrying from one to two percent of the New Zealand cattle herd, McCurry and Roy wrote.
“These animals go over young”
Said Langford, “China has a growing dairy sector and New Zealand has been helping fill that for a few years now. These animals go over young and spend their lives as dairy cows on farms in China.”
Said Marianne Macdonald, campaigns manager for the New Zealand animal rights group Save Animals From Exploitation (SAFE), “These cows should never have been at sea. This is a real crisis, and our thoughts are with the families of the 43 crew who are missing with the ship. But questions remain, including why this trade is allowed to continue.”
Evolving out of the former Auckland branch of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, SAFE has operated under the present name since 1987, often addressing live exports.
“We undermine our animal welfare laws”
Demonstrating with other SAFE members against live exports in January 2020, Macdonald argued that, “By shipping animals overseas, we undermine our animal welfare laws.
“New Zealand has already banned the export of live animals for slaughter,” Macdonald noted, “but even animals exported for breeding purposes will eventually be slaughtered in the destination country.”
New Zealand agriculture minister Damien O’Connor in June 2019 announced a review of the live export trade, annually worth $37 million in U.S. dollars, after an Australian Broadcasting Corporation exposé showed abuse of cattle shipped from New Zealand and Australia to Sri Lanka.
Objected Macdonald then, “The government’s review excludes 99% of the animals who suffer in the live export industry. The review covers only sheep, goats, deer and cows. We have not exported deer since 2015, but we exported over two million day-old chicks last year.”
Poultry, however, are normally flown rather than shipped, tending to reach overseas destinations relatively quickly and safely.
Live exports suspended
The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries temporarily suspended live cattle export applications after the Gulf Livestock 1 was reported missing.
The Gulf Livestock 1 was launched by the Hegemann Roland shipyard in Berne, Germany, on September 20, 2002 as the container ship Maersk Waterford. The vessel was renamed the Dana Hollandia in 2006, again renamed in 2012, becoming the Cetus J., and in 2015 was converted into the livestock carrier Rahmeh, becoming the Gulf Livestock 1 in 2019.
As the Gulf Livestock 1, the ship already had a history of engine failure before taking the 5,867 drowned heifers aboard, and was known to be top-heavy.
Reported Radio New Zealand (RNZ), “According to Baird Maritime,” a leading publisher of shipping industry information, “the Philippine Navy had helped the vessel in July 2020 when it suffered an engine breakdown near [the Philippine] maritime boundary. It had reportedly been undergoing sea trials at the time. After repairs, it headed toward Australia.
“Navigation & stability problems”
“In May 2019,” Radio New Zealand added, “Australian authorities held the vessel back for a week because of navigation and stability problems.
Most of the names of missing Gulf Livestock 1 crew members were not immediately disclosed. Catholic priest Michael Lowcock, of Mount Isa, Queensland, Australia, confirmed however that equine veterinarian Lukas Orda, 25, was aboard as ship’s vet, having taken the job in June 2020 after leaving a horse veterinary practice on the Gold Coast.
Lowcock told media that Lukas Orda and his wife Emma had recently celebrated the birth of their first child, a son they named Theo.