Large numbers of live sheep and cattle are transported by sea in specially designed vessels. Cattle tend to be moved from northern Europe to Mediterranean destinations, while New Zealand and Australia export hundreds of thousands of sheep to the ports of the Middle East. There are smaller trades carrying livestock to the countries of South East Asia.
This is a highly specialist trade operated by a small number of companies which have built up the necessary tonnage and acquired expertise in the handling of animals. In the past, ships tended to be converted tankers or bulk carriers which would have lightweight multi-deck platforms built on the original deck, mostly employing natural ventilation. Today’s more modern tonnage is mostly purpose built and designed carefully to load, keep and deliver the “walk-on, walk-off” cargo in the best possible condition.
Climate control, especially in either cold or hot latitudes is essential and livestock carriers will be fitted with powerful fans capable of up to 50 air changes per hour. And while the ships carry teams of livestock handlers who will be responsible for their welfare on the voyage, automated feed dispensers, watering equipment and equipment for the removal of manure is provided.
Enormous quantities of feedstuffs and bedding are carried, while it is not unusual for modern ships to have the capability of making large quantities of fresh water. Ramps for the safe movement of cattle and sheep between decks will have low gradients, as will the gangways for loading and unloading the four footed “passengers”.
Livestock carrier captains are always mindful of the weather, and while modern ships are stabilised to minimise any rolling, great efforts are taken to avoid storms, which might distress the animals. Vets would normally be carried as part of the crew.
The world’s largest purpose-built livestock carrier is Siba Ships’ Becrux, which was built in 2002 in Croatia for her Italian owners and can carry up to 75,000 sheep or 14,000 cattle or a combination of both sheep and cattle. The multi-decked vessel looks at first sight like a cruise ship, only the huge number of ventilating fans above the high accommodation betraying the real function of this specialist ship, which has been operating in the West Australian sheep trades to the Middle East since her delivery, taking about one month per round trip.
Fast, modern tonnage of great sophistication is also operated by Vroon’s Livestock Express, a Dutch company with many years of experience in these demanding trades, where the welfare of the animals is closely supervised by the authorities.
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