A Department of Agriculture and Water Resources investigation into the death of 95 cattle during a shipment from Darwin to South East Asia has found that slippery deck floors were the cause of the mortalities.
The DAWR report released this week stated that on 27 April 2017, South East Asian Livestock Services (SEALS) exported 896 slaughter and 340 breeder cattle by sea to Brunei Darussalam and Sarawak.
The shipment represented the maiden voyage of a new livestock export ship.
A mortality rate of 7.69 per cent (95 animals) was recorded on the 8 day voyage, exceeding the reportable mortality level for cattle exported by sea on voyages of less than 10 days is 0.5 per cent, under Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL).
The investigation found the mortalities were the result of cattle slipping over and not being able to rise (downers). Affected animals were sternally recumbent with their hind legs splayed, the report said.
“The onboard Australian Government Accredited Veterinarian (AAV) assessed their prognosis as dire and consequently euthanased them,” the report stated.
“A total of 77 mortalities occurred during the voyage and a further 18 were recorded at discharge at the first port.”
“Although the floors had been fitted with a non-slip layer, they proved unsuitable for livestock.”
The decks had been inspected by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) before granting the Australian Certificate for the Carriage of Livestock (ACCL).
While AMSA requires that all livestock export ships have non-slip flooring, there is no standard for the type of surface used; or criteria against which an assessment can be made of whether it is fit for purpose.
A non-slip epoxy paving paint was applied to the floors of the vessel. According to the manufacturer, this product is widely used in the marine industrial field; however, it has not previously been used in Australian livestock export ships.
Additionally, a secondary coat consisting of a modified epoxy paint was applied over the top of the non-slip surface, reducing its functionality.
Following this reportable mortality, AMSA revoked the ACCL for the vessel and consequently it could not be used for the export of livestock.
The report said the flooring has since been remediated, which involved grinding and cleaning the original surface and applying a different non-slip epoxy paint (from the same manufacturer but containing a coarser aggregate) with no overcoat.
It said the ship’s owners also improved drainage from the livestock spaces.
AMSA undertook an independent investigation into this incident and issued an ACCL on 4 September 2017 after inspecting the vessel for compliance with Marine Order 43 (Cargo and cargo handling – livestock) 2006.
The department said all livestock exporters should exporters should ensure they have effective non-slip flooring for live export ships.