After three months stranded in the Mediterranean, a cattle ship carrying almost 1,800 steers has been ordered to dock in the Spanish port of Cartagena.
The Elbeik is expected to arrive in Cartagena this afternoon, having left the Spanish port of Tarragona in mid-December.
He has been struggling to find a buyer for the cattle after several countries, including Turkey and Libya, denied him entry for fear the animals had a disease called bluetongue.
Sources have told The Guardian that nearly 180 head of cattle are dead, more than double an earlier estimate. One MEP has suggested that the “infernal” stress of three months at sea means that slaughter on arrival in port is now the most humane option.
After recent calls near Cyprus and in Greek ports for refueling, the Elbeik returned to Spanish waters earlier this week, anchoring off the island of Menorca.
Spanish authorities ordered the ship to dock in Cartagena on Tuesday, calling it the “most suitable port” for inspection and possible unloading and slaughter of the animals. A source from the Ministry of Agriculture said the ship would be inspected by veterinarians once docked.
The restitution order comes a few weeks after the Spanish authorities slaughtered in Cartagena more than 850 young bulls from another cattle boat, the Karim Allah. The ship had also left Spain in mid-December and was denied entry to ports in Turkey and elsewhere due to bluetongue fears.
On Wednesday, a source close to Elbeik said the owner of his cattle hoped to organize blood tests for the animals when the ship arrived in Cartagena. If the results showed that they are free of bluetongue and other diseases, the source said the owner plans to sell the animals “to North Africa.”
The Guardian received a document, apparently signed by the Elbeik’s captain, saying 179 bulls had died at sea, up from a previous estimate of 80 deaths. Another 1,610 animals appeared “normal and healthy,” which he attributed to the good care of the crew, but said “lately they have been frustrated about staying on board” for so long.
The Karim Allah had also organized blood draws and aimed to sell the bulls if they were disease free, but the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture ordered that the bulls be euthanized before the blood samples were analyzed.
Some MEPs and NGOs have argued that slaughtering the bulls in Spain, rather than sending them on another long journey to face a possibly less humane slaughter, was a kinder option.
“For more than three months these animals [on the Elbeik] we have been on this hellish journey, ”said Thomas Waitz MEP, a member of an EU committee examining animal transport issues and co-chair of the European Green Party.
Waitz said the “constant stress” of being at sea, plus food and water shortages, meant the young bulls were probably in “a terrible state” and euthanasia now seemed “the only responsible thing to do.”
Activists blame the EU for continuing to allow long export trips for farm animals and for not managing the problems. The unexpected problems, said Olga Kikou of Compassion in World Farming, were compounded by a lack of contingency plans for animals facing robberies and a lack of clarity about who was responsible for their well-being.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism