Ships of Shame – Stop Live Animal Export

The export of farmed animals by sea has been monitored and opposed by the NSPCA since the mid-1990s. This is one of the cruellest methods of transport in existence.

Farmed animals (cattle, sheep and goats) are bought in South Africa, trucked to the East London Harbour and loaded onto a ship bound for owners in the purchasing country, i.e. Mauritius. The loading process, which involves herding animals off the trucks onto the ship, can take up to 24hrs.

Some of the animals are held below deck and face a journey of between 7 to 12 days, depending on the weather and sea conditions.

According to research, simple change in handling and crush / holding environment, including the loading, reloading and sudden change in environment from open air to restricted ventilation below deck on the ship suggests the increases in stress and results in animal suffering. It was experienced that animals became ill and lethargic, sea sick and often end up with broken legs. – See Research (Animal Welfare 1994, 3: 213-218 {UFAW} by X Manatca and J. M. Deag)

The animals are then offloaded in Mauritius where inadequate loading/off-loading facilities exist and insufficient attention is given to general welfare and slaughter standards (i.e. animals are not stunned prior to throat cutting). The humane handling and slaughter of animals in South Africa is regulated but this is not the case in Mauritius. The meat sold in Mauritius is generally purchased by Halaal customers and the slaughter of animals is based on the requirements of the Islamic faith. However, unlike in South Africa, the welfare of animals in Mauritius is not always a priority.

NSPCA staff has monitored shipments over the past two decades, with the last shipment in July 2015 resulting in Court action between the NSPCA and the exporters in East London. The exporters were issued with warnings to comply with basic animal welfare and humane handling methods and since then used their legal strategies to keep the NSPCA inspectors off the ship during loading, thus preventing the NSPCA from ensuring the humane handling and care of the animals during the loading process. In 2015, the NSPCA used its own legal power to apply for warrants to ensure our presence on the ship during the loading process in East London. The humane handling and general conditions during loading left much to be desired.

The National Council of SPCAs further invested in technology to enable them to obtain the necessary evidence to prove the concerns, including ammonia (NH3) reader and several water quality testers. Although the exporters refused for NSPCA Inspectors or a veterinarian to accompany the animals on the journeys, we were able to, in a very short period and during loading of the animals, confirm high ammonia levels in some of the decks of the ship, lack of veterinary attention, expertise and equipment on board the ships. Although several attempts by the exporters to prevent the NSPCA from being present during the loading of the ships, our expertise and intervention ensured the humane and better treatment of the animals during loading.

The NSPCA is now considering both civil and criminal legal action against the exporters and the general export of live animals by sea. The National Council of SPCAs commissioned a specialised veterinary report from a National Feedlot veterinarian in an attempt to identify the modern animal health and welfare risks associated with Livestock being transported by sea. The report is comprehensive and among other health problems, identifies a high risk to the animals’ respiratory system.

As an animal welfare organisation the National Council of SPCAs believes that animals should be treated humanely while they are on the farm, while they are transported and when they are slaughtered. All animals are deserving of consideration, even those being raised for food.

Livestock Shipping

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The Following Organisations Support the NSPCA’s Stance:

  • United Ulama Council of South Africa
  • Livestock Welfare Coordinating Committee
  • Veterinarians Against Live Export (VALE)
  • Compassion in World Farming International
  • Animals Australia
  • World Animal Protection
  • South African Veterinary Council appointed Veterinarian
  • Ban Animal Trading
  • South African Mohair Growers Association
  • South African Feedlot Association

Physical Stressors

a) Hunger / Thirst
Feed and water shortage can occur if sufficient quantities are not loaded or become contaminated with sea water /spray. It can also become difficult to feed and water animals on rough seas. There is no guarantee on how long the ship will be at sea. Only a certain amount of food is loaded and any delay would result in food running out and animals dying of starvation. When cattle are placed under any form of stress, or suffer from a disease, especially respiratory, the result is that they reduce their feed consumption. The more severe the stress and infection, the more significant the reduction. Under severe stress and advanced infection they will stop eating resulting in death. Goats can become very dominant over feed troughs and single animals will often stand or lie down in them. Once this has happened the others will refuse to eat from that bin.

b) Injury (bruising, lacerations, broken bones)
Common problems observed on the vessels include – Hip Haematomas, swollen legs, broken horns, pneumonia, heat stress and Pink Eye, nasal discharge, coughing and sneezing.

c) Thermal extremes (heat, cold, humidity)
On the vessel, animals pant and gasp, eyes bulge and they are unable to stand up due to humidity. Eye infections result due to lack of ventilation.

d) Mounting
Bulls will mount each other continuously causing fatigue and injuries.

e) Overcrowding
Livestock transported on vessels with poor ventilation require more space than the same number of animals on well-ventilated vessels. This is not taken into consideration. Every shipment so far we had to advice on reducing the number of animals per pen due to lack of space.

f) Flooring
Animals are left standing in wet faeces, flooded pens and urine due to poor drainage, which produces an overpowering ammonia build-up. This also discourages animals from lying down. No bedding is provided.

g) Ventilation / Temperatures
The ventilation and temperatures are regulated on board the vessel and are not necessarily effective or correct.

h) Sea sickness
Inclement weather and rough seas can cause motion sickness distress, stress, injuries, resulting in unnecessary suffering.

i) Laminitis and lameness
A common problem due to the feed, restriction of movement and wet floor conditions.

Stressors During Transportation

The welfare of farm animals will be compromised during the entire transportation process unless focussed attention is paid to eliminating or mitigating both psychological and physical stressors. In relation to the conditions on vessels transporting animals, these stressors are listed and explored below –


a) Physical Restraint and Handling
b) Noise – Loading, Journey, Off-loading.
c) Vibration – of vessel and ocean.
d) Social Regrouping – Establishing the pecking order, disease transmission, bullying, mounting.
e) Unfamiliar Surroundings – Animals not familiar with artificial conditions.
f) High Ammonia build up / Respiratory problems.
g) Lack of veterinary treatment and provision during the journey.

Other Welfare Concerns Include:

  • Lack of ability to provide veterinarian support and care on vessels
  • Lack of emergency slaughter protocols
  • Downer animals and trampling
  • Offloading and other animal welfare concerns of animals in country of destination
  • Lack of general awareness of ship’s structure and lose objects in and around the ship that could cause injury / distress to the animals

Imagine a dog imprisoned for 1 hour in a hot car.
Now imagine an animal imprisoned for 3 weeks in scorching conditions.

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