Credit: NSPCA
A steer on the floor of a live export ship, covered in excrement that is crusted over their face and body.

Not just “a stench” – for the animals on live export ships, this is their reality.

The smell of a live export vessel docked in Cape Town, South Africa, was so unbearable that people in parts of the city were sent home from work. But for the animals on board, there is no escape...

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated February 29, 2024

Cattle had been standing, eating, resting and sleeping in the build-up of urine and faeces for over two weeks, and their journey wasn’t over yet. For animals confined in barren pens on gruelling live export shipments, the stench is just one aspect of the discomfort and suffering that only worsens as each day goes by.

Soon after the live export ship, Al Kuwait, docked at Cape Town Harbour, there were reports of a sewage smell blanketing parts of the city.” The vessel was travelling from Brazil to Iraq, and docked only to load more feed for the animals. In other words, improving the appallingly unhygienic conditions for the animals wasn’t on the agenda, only the bare necessity of food to keep them alive – until they reached their destination for slaughter.

The stench onboard is unimaginable, yet the animals face this every single day...

While most of us can only imagine the smell of a ship with 19,000 confined animals forced to live in their own waste for a fortnight, it’s nearly impossible to comprehend what it’s like for the animals existing in these conditions. Now, thanks to the unwavering efforts of the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA), their plight has been revealed through rare images and footage captured by inspectors.

Securing a warrant to board the live export ship, the NSPCA has brought us face-to-face with some of the animals…

Cape Town resident Lerato Bashing told the BBC –

“I feel sorry for the workers on that carrier who have to be around that every day and for the animals…”

Across February 18-20, 2024, the NSPCA, assisted by the Cape of Good Hope SPCA, not only gathered evidence of what animals were enduring on this ship, but also organised for vets to board the ship to assess and help the animals they could. For some, euthanasia was the kindest option.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A young cow seemingly giving up on the floor of a live export ship, laying in filth with their head beside dirty feeding trays.
To the profit-driven live export industry, a certain number of animal deaths on board ships is "acceptable", with a death rate factored into its business model.
Image credit: NSPCA

Every animal subjected to a journey by sea is knowingly put at risk of enduring – and succumbing to – conditions such as these. Risky live export voyages are not rare.

What is rare is the opportunity to see the reality for the animals during the journey. The vast majority of animals exported endure gruelling shipments without ever being seen by someone outside of this well-hidden industry. But every time we do manage to get a glimpse on board, the conditions are nothing short of appalling…

The suffering of animals is ‘business as usual’ for live exporters

Many live export vessels are converted car carriers, but this ship – the Al Kuwait – was purpose-built to carry live animals. Considering it was built for nothing else raises questions:

Does the live export industry think the Al Kuwait ship is ‘doing its job’ well? 

Does the well-being of animals seem to have been factored into the ship’s design?

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A steer, killed or exhausted on a live export ship, lays in the deep layer of excrement on the floor of a live export pen.
He deserves to be seen as more than just part of the industry's death statistics. He had a unique personality, best friends, and – if allowed to live – would have had many more years ahead of him.
Image credit: NSPCA

The Al Kuwait is owned and operated by KLTT (Livestock Transport & Trading Co.), a company with a chronic list of welfare failures that have led to millions of animals suffering on their ships.

KLTT is a long-time business partner of Emanuel Exports, the exporter responsible for the horrific cruelty to sheep documented on multiple shipments by a whistleblower and exposed on 60 Minutes. Despite its appalling track record, it’s also the umbrella company of Rural Export Trading WA (RETWA), which exports Australian animals to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

Animals in the live trade suffer no matter where they are exported from or to

This exposé serves as a solemn reminder that the live export of animals is a global trade in animal suffering. 

This is why Animals Australia works with colleagues across the world to capture evidence and lobby for an end to live export from their countries too. Our investigations of Brazilian animals suffering in importing countries helped underpin a recent Federal Court judgement in Brazil that no animals be sent overseas. This ruling is currently under review. So, while the trade continues from Brazil for now, we are still close to seeing Brazilian cattle spared from what investigators described as some of the worst cruelty they’d ever seen. 

There is no possible way to mitigate the risks animals are forced to face on live export shipments or in importing countries.

At “best”, animals survive the gruelling journeys by sea, standing and sleeping in mounting excrement until they arrive at their destination only to be slaughtered. At worst, they suffer from painful sores from the faeces and ammonia, experience overheating, or die from disasters or the conditions and lack of individualised care onboard. Ending the trade for good is the only option.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A close up of a cow's eye with a sad expression, their head is covered with crusted layers of faeces onboard a filthy live export ship.
Image credit: NSPCA

In Australia, while the Albanese Government has pledged to phase out the live trade of sheep, an end to the live export of cattle and other animals is not yet in sight. By continuing to export animals overseas, our decision-makers are telling the world that we, as a nation, accept and endorse this cruelty.

Help animals trapped in the live trade today

The live export industry is a ruthless, profit-driven industry, and animals will continue to pay the ultimate price until it’s ended for good. Here are four things you can do today to help spare animals from the cruel live export trade.