The Japanese coastguard is engaged in a large-scale search for the missing livestock carrier Gulf Livestock 1, which got into trouble on Wednesday due to typhoon Maysak. The ship had 43 people on board, one of whom, a Filipino man, was rescued from the sea.

It is feared that the other 42, and the 5800 cattle on board, were killed. The eighteen-year-old ship, flying the Panamanian flag, sent out a distress call when it sailed an estimated 180 kilometres west along the Japanese island of Amami Oshima in the East China Sea, but after that, nothing more was heard from the crew.

If the crew has indeed perished, it is one of the biggest shipping disasters of recent years. Why there were so many people on the ship is unclear. Usually, this type of ship sails with a much smaller crew. It consisted of two Australians, two New Zealanders and 39 Filipinos. The ship was on its way from Napier in New Zealand to Tangshan in North China.

According to the rescued Filipino, Sareno Edvarodo, the propulsion of the ship had failed and it capsized after being hit by a huge wave. At that time, the crew had already been ordered to wear life jackets. Edvarodo said he jumped into the water and didn’t see any other people on board before he was rescued.

The Coast Guard searches for survivors with three boats, five airplanes and divers.

Dana Hollandia

The Gulf Livestock 1 is an old acquaintance of the port of Rotterdam. It was launched as a container ship in Germany in 2002 and for many years it commuted between Rotterdam and a series of Irish ports under the names Maersk Waterford and Dana Hollandia. It was in the news in 2012 when it entered Rotterdam with a tiger shark, which was scooped up on the bulb along the way.

The 630 TEU short sea ship was sold in 2012 by owner Jungerhans to an unknown party, who had it converted into a livestock carrier. It sailed under the name Rahmeh until April last year and was renamed Gulf Livestock 1 along the way. The incident will undoubtedly raise questions about the suitability of a former short sea ship for a deep sea route, where hurricanes are not an uncommon phenomenon.

Heated debate

In addition, the shipwreck will undoubtedly further intensify the heated debate in New Zealand about the admissibility of mass transport of livestock by sea. Campaign leader Marianne Macdonald of the New Zealand animal rights organisation Safe has said that ‘these cows should never have been at sea’. The organisation has been fighting for a complete ban for years.

Minister of Agriculture Damien O’Connor said earlier this year, following the publication of a research report on the sector, that ‘a conditional ban on the export of live cattle is one of the options being considered’. According to the investigation, after thousands of animals died in transit, the value of live cattle exports last year was 54 million New Zealand dollars (just over 30 million euros).

This article first appeared in Dutch on Nieuwsblad Transport, a publication of SWZ|Maritime’s publishing partner Promedia.