The Queen Hind live export ship sinking.

9 live export disasters that could happen again – unless the industry is finally stopped.

Live export is high-risk, and it is always the animals who pay the ultimate price.

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated February 15, 2024

The recent MV Bahijah live export disaster is only the latest in a string of tragic, avoidable disasters the live export industry is responsible for. Still, ships crammed with terrified animals continue to leave Australia’s shores…

Sheep and cattle have been languishing inside the MV Bahijah live export ship for over a month, after it was forced to turn back to Western Australia due to conflict in the Red Sea. Conflict the industry and Australian Government knew about before the ship set off. With yet another shameful addition to the industry’s track record, the list below makes one thing painfully clear; for as long as the live export industry is permitted to operate, animals will suffer in perilous situations, all for the sake of profit.

From filthy, overcrowded vessels to horrific ends at destination countries, the risks Australian animals exported alive are forced to face are not new – they’re systemic. Here are 9 tragedies that demonstrate cruelty and suffering are inevitable so long as the live animal trade exists:

This image contains content which some may find confronting

Sheep lying in the street panting, looking distressed.

2023: Thousands of Australian sheep abandoned to cruelty after complete system collapse

11 years after the implementation of a regulatory system that is supposed to control where Australian animals exported for slaughter end up, our investigators in Oman yet again uncovered the complete collapse of this system. Terrified sheep were sold to private buyers and stuffed into car boots in the stifling heat. Sheep had their legs tied together and were left lying on the scorching ground in the streets, awaiting their turn to be dragged away. And on makeshift kill floors, they were slaughtered by untrained, ill-equipped slaughterman. The exporter’s blatant disregard for the rules was only brought to the attention of the federal regulator because Animals Australia documented and reported the flagrant breaches.

The ‘Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System’ (ESCAS) is often used by the industry to defend the trade, but the reality is that it’s not policed, not enforced, and not complied with. This most recent revelation of ongoing cruelty in importing countries is commonplace and represents the ‘everyday welfare disasters’ animals on every live export shipment are exposed to.

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The body of a cow floats in the sea after the sinking of the Gulf Livestock 1 live export ship.
Image credit: Japan Coast Guard

2020: Ship crew and over 5,000 dairy cows drown at sea

En route to China, New Zealand’s MV Gulf Livestock 1 live export ship capsized in the East China Sea, killing 41 crew members (from the Philippines, New Zealand, and Australia) and 5,867 dairy cows. This devastating loss of human and animal life reportedly occurred due to a combination of engine problems and rough sea conditions caused by Typhoon Maysak. The 175kph winds, giant waves, and loss of power would have been nothing short of terrifying for all on board. A ban on the export of live animals by sea was announced in New Zealand the following year, with its phase-out period ending live export by sea from New Zealand in April 2023.

Image sourced from ABC article: The final voyage of the Gulf Livestock 1, posted Dec 2022

2019: Ship capsizes, killing over 14,000 sheep

Footage captured of the MV Queen Hind ship as it capsized off the coast of Romania is hard enough to witness – it’s unimaginable to think of what the thousands of sheep endured as the disaster unfolded. As the ship tilted and sank, sheep were piled up on top of one another with their limbs forced through the ship’s side. Many would have likely been crushed to death by the weight of their pen mates., and most drowned.

Fewer than 200 sheep survived the capsizing out of the 14,600 who were initially believed to be on board, but the death toll was likely much higher‘secret decks’ were later discovered on board, meaning several thousand more are thought to have perished on the overloaded ship.

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A severely malnourished cow, lays on a filthy floor with splayed legs.
Image credit: ABC News: Siobhan Heanue

2019: Pregnant Australian dairy cows starve to death

Most people are surprised to learn of a loophole in live export regulations that allows the live export of animals for the purposes of breeding and dairy production with no protection in importing countries. In 2019, Australian dairy cattle exported from Australia to Sri Lanka were found to be starving, sick, dying, and dead. They were also pregnant when they went onto the ship.

The chairman of the exporting company said, “They were all passed fit for purpose”, and directed blame at the farm management practices at the destination – highlighting that there is no control over how these animals are treated abroad. Animals Australia spokesman at the time, Tim Vasudeva, spoke out against the cruel scheme of exporting breeder and dairy animals, calling it a “fairly unmitigated disaster from a human and animal welfare perspective.”

Image sourced from ABC article: Australian cattle exported to Sri Lanka dying and malnourished, local farmers left suicidal, posted April 2019

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A sheep lays with his head back, gasping for air inside a live export ship.

2017: Thousands of sheep ‘cook from the inside out’

Evidence captured across five routine long-haul voyages revealed horrific conditions onboard the Awassi Express, with sheep suffering severe heat stress and dying in their own faeces. The reality for sheep on board was only brought to light by a brave whistleblower, on a ship loaded to Australian standards (below usual stocking densitities) and with a vet on board. Countless sheep were documented suffering and dying slowly due to inescapable heat and humidity, injury, and a lack of access to food and water. Footage also revealed sheep and lambs buried in mounting levels of manure and waste, and at least one sheep thrown overboard while still alive.

Following the exposé on 60 Minutes, the Agriculture Minister at the time, David Littleproud, promised transparency through ‘independent’ reporting. But the very next year, the Department of Agriculture decided it would not release footage from a 2019 shipment, worried it could expose the exporter to ‘unfair treatment’. If the vision captured on board could make the industry ‘look bad’, doesn’t that suggest conditions for animals on board are bad?

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panting sheep looking at camera on live export ship

2016: Thousands of sheep perish from overheating

Over 3,000 sheep perish on the Al Messilah as it journeys to the Middle East. The death rate was 4.36%. This is an industry that factors in deaths as part of its business plan, with one sheep death out of every 100 exported alive being “acceptable” and no cause for concern. One life lost is already one too many, but this is an industry that exports tens of thousands of sensitive animals every year. Their prolonged suffering is incomprehensible. And perhaps what’s worse is knowing it’s avoidable.

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Investigation vision shows a cow about to be killed with a sledgehammer.

2015: Australian cattle sledgehammered to death

Animals Australia’s undercover investigations revealed extensive live export regulation breaches throughout Vietnam, including Australian cattle being killed by sledgehammers in front of one another. Incomprehensibly, exporters and Australia’s Department of Agriculture knew. Video evidence shows one poor animal had collapsed to the ground in sheer terror, before he’d even been hit

This is undeniably a tragic fate for any animal, but at the very least, Australia should have chosen to protect cattle who are exported from such a brutal practice. Once again, the industry revealed that it simply cannot be trusted – live exporters will always place profit ahead of animal welfare.

2012: Australian sheep sawed, bulldozed, and buried alive

After Bahrain rejected the shipment of 21,000 Australian sheep, they were stranded at sea on the MV Ocean Drover for two weeks, and things only got worse for them. They were eventually shipped to Pakistan, fell outside of the ‘Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System’ (ESCAS) – as we’ve seen happen time and time again – and were subjected to brutal mass slaughter.

Footage revealed a sheep having their neck sawed, before being tossed into a pit. Sheep were bulldozed into a pit, with some seen still breathing the next day. The Department of Agriculture reported that the exporter couldn’t have done any more to avoid this horrific treatment of Australian sheep. These animals are forced onto ships by a profit-driven industry that so quickly washes its hands once it abandons them to some of the worst suffering imaginable.

Images sourced from ABC News articles: 1) 21,000 Aussie sheep to be destroyed in Pakistan, Sep 2012 and 2) Footage reveals horror of Pakistani slaughter, posted Nov 2012

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Sheep crowded in a live export ship pen, covered in filth and barely able to move.

2003: Over 50,000 ‘unwanted’ sheep languish on ship for three months

The Cormo Express took over 50,000 Australian sheep across the sea to Saudi Arabia, but on arriving, the shipment was rejected due to alleged cases of scabby mouth (a highly contagious, viral disease causing scabs and pus-filled lumps around the mouth and face). Trapped in limbo as other countries refused to accept the shipment, the animals suffered, and thousands of them died. After spending 80 days in cramped, uncomfortable and filthy pens on board, the survivors of the Cormo Express were unloaded in Eritrea in East Africa, and killed.

The list will go on…

Live export will always put animals at risk until it is finally ended. For the animals forced onto ships for lengthy sea voyages, every live export journey is a disaster – whether it be due to stress from overcrowding, disease, heat and weather extremes, conflict, or trade disputes. Atrociously, these are all risks that the industry is willing to take, knowing that it is the animals who will pay the ultimate price.

These animals will never have a happy ending, for as long as there is a demand for animal products, they will face terrifying deaths in slaughterhouses. But as long as live export continues, they will always be in danger of some of the very worst suffering.

The Australian government is on the cusp of legislating a date for its end. It must come soon; we cannot have another ‘Bahijah’. Australia does not need this trade.
Dr. Lynn Simpson, former live export veterinarian

Help spare animals from live export cruelty

As we confront the harrowing reality of yet another tragedy, it’s imperative to recognise that the suffering endured by animals in this trade is neither isolated nor rare – it’s a persistent and pervasive issue demanding urgent action from Australia’s Labor Government. Here’s how you can help today: