New analysis finds livestock vessels 'at least twice as likely' to be lost at sea compared to standard cargo ships

Livestock carriers are "at least twice as likely" to be lost at sea compared to standard cargo ships, according to an analysis by the UK's Guardian newspaper.

The paper looked at more than 10 years of data comparing the percentage of livestock carriers that had sunk with that of standard cargo ships.

The analysis follows the sinking of Gulf Livestock 1 in September, which disappeared in typhoon conditions off the coast off Japan, with 43 crew members on board, including two New Zealanders.

The ship had left Napier in August bound for China with almost 6000 cattle onboard. 

Three Filippino crew members were pulled from the ocean, though one of them later died. The 40 other crew members remain missing, presumed dead.

According to The Guardian's analysis, between January 2010 and December 2019 five livestock vessels were lost due to sinking or grounding, leading to the death of crew members and animals. These ships account for just over 3 percent of the estimated 150 livestock carriers above 100 gross tonnes (GT) - a weight above which ships are presumed to be commercial vessels and not personal boats - known to operate worldwide.

That compares to 471 standard cargo vessels being lost to sinking or grounding during the same period of time - from a total global cargo fleet of around 61,000 ships over 100 GT - or less than 1 percent.

The Guardian's analysis used data from insurer Allianz Global Corporate and Specialty’s Safety and Shipping Review 2020, analyst IHS Markit and the International Maritime Organisation. 

If the number of livestock vessels lost is expanded to include the Gulf Livestock 1 and another ship that sank in 2009 - which were both lost outside the 10 years covered by the Allianz shipping report - then the figure of lost livestock carriers rises to 4.7 percent, the Guardian said.

Experts spoke to by The Guardian said one reason one livestock carriers had a higher risk of sinking was that many were not originally designed to carry animals, but had been converted from normal container ships, passenger vessels or oil tankers.

Many were also past their used-by date, with the fleet being "one of the oldest sectors in shipping".

Animal rights groups in New Zealand and around the world have long called for live cattle exports to be banned.

Following the sinking of Gulf Livestock 1 New Zealand's Ministry for Primary Industries [MPI] put a temporary ban on live exports and ordered an independent review of the practice.

The findings of that review were released last week, with reviewer Mike Heron QC concluding "that while the system is robust, there are changes that can be made now to boost the assurances MPI receives".

Among the changes implemented based on the review were rules ordering restricting stocking density on vessels to 90 percent, increasing voyaging reporting and increasing minimum fodder requirements on ships.

The changes came into effect immediately for a conditional prohibition period of between October 24 and November 30.

During that period, MPI also has the discretion to consider applications for Animal Welfare Export Certification (AWEC), and only grant certification if all requirements are met.

Animal rights group SAFE dismissed the new rules as merely "tinkering around the edges" and continued their calls for an outright ban on live cattle exports, citing animal cruelty issues.

Although the Government maintains cattle are only exported for breeding purposes, SAFE says it's impossible to know how cattle will be treated after leaving New Zealand shores.

"We're seriously concerned about what will happen to these animals in the destination country, and these recommendations won't change that," SAFE's chief executive Debra Ashton, who took part in the review, said last week.

Last year the Government undertook a broader review in live cattle exports, however a decision has been delayed due to COVID-19.