Handful of sheep rescued while almost 15000 may have died after ship overturned Pic: Whatsapp

Almost 14,600 sheep may have suffocated and drowned after the cargo ship they were being carried on capsized in the Black Sea off Romania.

The Queen Hind overturned shortly after its departure for Saudi Arabia where the animals were set to be slaughtered. The ship’s crew of 20 were rescued. 

Ana-Maria Stoica, a spokeswoman for the rescuers, said: “The rescue operation is ongoing. We hope that the sheep inside the ship’s hold are still alive.”

Experts believe that the waterlogged animals would not have had a good chance of survival for long.

Online photos show the ship on its side, tethered to a smaller boat, with the animals’ legs and other body parts dangling out of an enclosed area. Videos showed rescuers carrying about a dozen of the sheep in the back of another smaller boat.

The sheep were destined to be slaughtered in accordance with Islamic guidelines known as halal but one livestock expert questioned whether there was a more humane way to procure that many sheep.

Susan Schoenian, a sheep and goat expert at the University of Maryland Extension, told the New York Times she could not understand why the sheep were on the ships, given that there were certified halal slaughterhouses in the European Union, which includes Romania.

She said: “Why move live animals when you can slaughter them and move meat? It can be certified halal. It would provide jobs for Romanians.”

She added that while the sheep’s survival instincts could have kicked in after the ship overturned, they would have most likely been weighed down in the water by their long fleece.

Romania exports almost 70,000 sheep to the Middle East, according to the European Parliament, which called for Romania to improve treatment of the animals in August.

Thousands of Facebook users have expressed outrage on Animal Australia’s page. The animal protection group has called for supporters to contact Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban via his Facebook page on behalf of the sheep.

The group said: “Sea transport is inherently dangerous and risky, and that in response to this distressing incident, even Romania’s main livestock breeder and exporter has said, “If we cannot protect livestock during long-distance transports, we should outright ban them.”

Millions of Romanian calves and sheep endure unimaginable cruelty within the country’s live export trade — enduring long and arduous land travel before they are loaded onto ships to face swaying decks and extreme heat stress, and may die from injuries or because they are unable to reach food or water. 

The animals that survive the gruelling truck and ship transport do so only to face a fate worse than death in importing countries — with Animals International investigators witnessing animals being stabbed, beaten and blinded.

Romania’s main livestock breeder and exporter association, Acebop, has called for an urgent investigation.

President Mary Pana said: “Our association is shocked by the disaster. If we cannot protect livestock during long-distance transports, we should outright ban them.”

Gabriel Paun of Animals International alleged that the ship had been overloaded.

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Written by

Shirin Aguiar