COMMENT – Cape Town’s port controllers did animal rights activists a huge favour last week by electing to allocate a berth on the Duncan Dock’s “long wall” to Kuwaiti livestock trader Al Mawashi’s cattle carrier Al Kuwait.

With her cargo of around 19 000 head of cattle loaded in South America, and her general lack of cleanliness, the Al Kuwait’s hapless passengers ensured that the delicate nostrils of residents and workers in the Cape Town City Bowl were assailed, on a hot windless February day, by some very fruity farmyard smells. Up-close and personal, like.

Early closing

The pong was so bad that some reports had it that companies on the Foreshore resorted to sending staff home early.

What was the ship doing here? She was not working cargo, ie loading or offloading cattle. She was merely here for what in shipping parlance is called a “BSW” – a stop to load bunkers (fuel), stores (victuals for the crew), and fresh water.  Such calls typically only take twelve to 24 hours, maybe a bit longer if any small repair work needs to be carried out. Indeed, the Al Kuwait was on her way again to the Persian Gulf by Wednesday morning.

So why was this call so effective in raising awareness for animal rightists? Simply because there are many berths in Cape Town Harbour at which BSW calls can be carried out. And, indeed, many of them are further away from the Foreshore, so that the stench in the City would have been less noticeable (and had a southeaster been blowing the pong would have largely wafted out to sea). That port authorities chose to bring her alongside at J-Berth on the Long Wall meant that the MAXIMUM pong could reach the MAXIMUM number of residents. Thus causing the MAXIMUM outcry.

And outcry it did, indeed, cause.

NSPCA inspection

As is routine, the NSPCA obtained a court injunction allowing its inspectors to board the ship and inspect the cargo. What they found was horrifying, even by livestock shipping standards. The pens in which the animals are confined clearly hadn’t been hosed down for days (standard practice aboard such ships to reduce dangerous ammonia build-ups and slippery underfoot conditions). Thus, animals were forced to lie in their own excrement and urine.

Hot on the heels of the NSPCA came photographers from the Press, who were thus able to record the sorry state of the animals in pictures, many coated in caked dry cow-poo.

Inspections revealed some dead animals and others in such a weak condition that they were euthanased.

Why Cape Town?

The choice of Cape Town for the Al Kuwait’s call was also fortuitous for publicity. She had apparently previously tried to call at Walvis Bay, but was refused. Special permission could have been made to enable her to berth at Saldanha Bay, neatly “out of sight and out of mind”.

Or, she could have sailed on to Al Mawashi’s South African base port of East London. (The company maintained an office there, although this was reported to be closing last year.) This little river port in the Eastern Cape has for decades handled most of South Africa’s livestock export cargoes (a regular trade in cattle has happened from there to Mauritius for, literally, decades).

Live sheep exports

And in recent years Al Mawashi has handled annual exports of live sheep to the Middle East through East London.

So while the Al Kuwait is under way to the Persian Gulf again, consider this: by the time those hapless animals step foot on dry land again, they will have spent approximately a month at sea, confined in pens, most with no access to outside light or fresh air.

Ritual slaughter

And their fate upon arrival? To be slaughtered, either as part of a ritual or simply for meat.

It seems barbaric, in the 21st Century, that this practice of ritual slaughter, or even slaughter for meat, should require such cruelty of a month-long sea voyage.

Let’s hope, therefore, that the thousands of Cape Town residents now up in arms over what they “endured” will continue to make a noise, so that South Africa’s government will act much more decisively to put a stop to all livestock shipments by sea, and not leave it up to the NSPCA to fight for the implementation of animal cruelty laws already in place. – Editor

Main image: Al Mawashi’s livestock carrier Al Kuwait. Picture by Graeme Waller, VesselFinder




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