New Zealand has suspended the export of live cattle after a ship that left its shores with 43 crew members and nearly 6,000 cows capsized off Japan, raising fresh questions about the safety and ethics of transporting livestock by sea.
On Friday, the Japanese Coast Guard plucked from the sea a second man believed to be a crew member from the cargo ship. He was found floating face down and unconscious, the Coast Guard said. He died by the time rescuers took him to a pier on the Japanese island of Amami Oshima.
The carcasses of a dozen cows were also found floating in the water, as well as a life jacket, the Coast Guard said.
The ship, the Gulf Livestock 1, was carrying 39 crew members from the Philippines and two each from Australia and New Zealand. One of the Australians was identified by news outlets as Lukas Orda, 25, of Queensland, who was said to be working on the ship as a veterinarian.
The vessel left New Zealand for China in mid-August and sent a distress call early Wednesday from about 100 nautical miles off southern Japan. That set off a two-day air-and-sea rescue mission by the Japanese Coast Guard and Maritime Self-Defense Force — one that unfolded as a powerful typhoon pummeled parts of Japan and South Korea on Thursday.
As news of the missing ship circulated in New Zealand, the country’s Ministry for Primary Industries said in a statement that it would temporarily stop considering export applications for cattle as it tried to understand what happened during the ship’s fateful journey. The statement did not elaborate or give a timeline.
The ministry says on its website that it banned the export of livestock for slaughter in 2016, but that exceptions could be made if “the risks to New Zealand’s trade reputation can be adequately managed.”
The animals on board the Gulf Livestock 1 were thought to have been sold abroad for breeding, not slaughter. Marianne Macdonald, the campaigns manager for SAFE, a New Zealand-based animal welfare group, said on Thursday that the cows on the vessel were likely pregnant.
Rescuers found the first survivor, Sareno Edvardo, of the Philippines, bobbing in the East China Sea late Wednesday. He was hospitalized on Amami Oshima, and the Coast Guard said on Thursday that he was able to walk.
He told the Japanese Coast Guard that the ship had lost an engine as it traversed choppy seas. Then a wave flooded its deck in the dark of night, forcing the vessel to list at a precarious angle before capsizing and sinking.
“When it was capsizing, an onboard announcement instructed us to wear a life jacket,” Mr. Edvardo said. “So I wore a life jacket and jumped into the sea.”
As the weekend approached, the odds of finding more survivors were ebbing. Animal welfare groups were also scrutinizing anew the practice of transporting livestock by sea.
Moving cattle, sheep and other animals from one country to another, sometimes across enormous distances, can be lucrative for animal breeders and slaughterhouses. But animal rights advocates say the practice is rife with cruelty, in part because vessels are usually converted cargo ships that do not meet animal welfare standards.
Other critics note that the transnational livestock trade is yet another contributor to climate change by the meat industry, which has a heavy carbon footprint.
The company that manages the Gulf Livestock 1, MC-Schiffahrt of Hamburg, Germany, said in a statement that it lost contact with the ship on Wednesday.
Archival photos of the 18-year-old cargo ship show cattle berths stacked high on its deck, like rooms on a cruise liner. It is registered in Panama, and Reuters reported that its registered owner is Rahmeh Compania Naviera SA, a company in Jordan.