Ramsgate: ‘Farming minister to explain why hundreds of sheep suffered at sea’

Posted on November 22, 2012


Today (22nd November), a news item was posted on guardian.co.uk titled ‘Farming minister to explain why hundreds of sheep suffered at sea’.

‘… David Heath summoned by MPs after livestock endured ‘absolute misery’ in stormy Channel crossing from Ramsgate –

Farming and food minister David Heath is being summoned by MPs to explain how hundreds of sheep were allowed to board a ferry for France and suffered “absolute misery” during “appalling weather” in the English Channel on Wednesday.

Government vets passed the sheep fit to board the Joline, a Dutch-owned vessel, at Ramsgate, the only port in Britain from which live animals are now exported. They also said they were in satisfactory condition after the aborted journey to Calais.

But a Kent MP, Sir Roger Gale, and the RSPCA said the sheep, transported in two lorries, should never have boarded the boat in an incident that will only intensify campaigners’ fight to stop the trade. The government says it cannot ban it under EU law.

According to the RSPCA, there had been warnings of force-10 winds in the channel and the boat had been at sea for a total of five-and-a-half hours. The charity said its own inspectors had not been allowed to inspect the animals before sailing.

Gale, the Conservative MP for North Thanet, which neighbours the constituency that includes Ramsgate, told the Commons on Thursday that the ferry had sailed in appalling weather. The animals were on a ship “that should never have been allowed to sail at all – went halfway across the Channel, turned back and had to unload those animals that were then transported a long way across the country in absolutely misery.

“This is absolutely intolerable and it is done in the name of free trade.”

Gale called for an environment minister to make a statement to MPs, a request which Commons leader Andrew Lansley backed. He said he would ask the department to update MPs on the controversy.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Defra, said it had not yet received a formal request to make a statement, but added that its hands might be tied by a legal case between Thanet council and companies trying to continue the trade.

It is believed most of the sheep had travelled from Northamptonshire and were returned there. RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said: “It is barbaric that animals are at sea on open decks in these appalling weather conditions. This ship is designed to work in rivers, not in the open sea.”

Grant said the crossing amounted to “torture” for the animals and the RSPCA would be lodging a complaint with the authorities in the hope that a full investigation will be conducted into why the ship was allowed to sail.

A spokesman for the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AVHLA), which reports to Defra, said: “The MV Joline returned to the port of Ramsgate yesterday due to unexpected headwinds.

“Both prior to the ship’s departure and upon its return, AHVLA vets inspected the animals that were due to be exported and were satisfied there were no welfare issues.”

The agency took its responsibilities “extremely seriously” but refused to say where the animals had travelled from. It was satisfied the animals had travelled in lorries for less than the maximum 14 hours before a break …

The aborted sailing comes a month after a high court injunction was served on Thanet district council, overturning its decision to suspend live animal exports at Ramsgate.

The suspension by the council was introduced in September after 42 sheep which arrived at the port in a lorry unfit for transporting live animals had to be put down due to lameness. A further two drowned and two suffered broken legs.

The deaths occurred after the RSPCA highlighted to the council the port’s inadequate facilities , warning of severe problems with animals in an emergency. A letter co-written by leading council members was then sent to environment secretary Owen Paterson. It called for the urgent establishment of a livestock resting facility in Kent.

The local authority said the suspension would be lifted if suitable facilities could be built within the port and if it deemed it a priority compared with other issues. The ferry operation moved to Ipswich but the Suffolk port’s owners halted exports after just one shipment amid concerns about suitable facilities there.

Thanet council then received notice that it faced a judicial review bought against them by export companies over its decision to suspend operations at Ramsgate. Last month, the high court ordered the council to allow live animal movements to resume until the outcome of case, which is due to start next month.

According to Compassion in World Farming, 2.5 million live animals were shipped out of Britain each year. Now it says the number has fallen below 100,000 …’

Read the item in full, view image and add your comment online at www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/22/sheep-ramsgate-channel-crossing-storms


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