Rescuers scrambled to save thousands of sheep trapped after a large cargo ship overturned in the Black Sea off the coast of Romania.
The Queen Hind capsized on Sunday after leaving the port of Midia, near the south-eastern city of Constanta. An operation involving the military, police, firefighters, divers and the Romanian coastguard resumed on Monday morning after an overnight pause, but nearly 14,600 sheep have died in the Black Sea, according to Aljazeera.com.
While the crew of 20 Syrians and one Lebanese were rescued almost immediately, one crew member was taken to hospital with hypothermia.
“He fell into the sea but was very quickly rescued,” says Ana-Maria Stoica (according to the BBC), a spokeswoman for the rescue services, before adding that the rest of the crew were “all safe here in the harbour”.
Rescuers supported by the military, police and divers tried to right the Palau-flagged ship and pull it to the port, she said before later confirming that the rescuers managed to save only 33 sheep.
According to Romania’s Digi24 online newspaper, the losses were estimated at three million Romanian lei (over £500,000).
Romania’s main livestock breeder and exporter association, ACEBOP, called for an urgent investigation.
“Our association is shocked by the disaster,” Mary Pana, ACEBOP President, says. “If we cannot protect livestock during long-distance transports, we should outright ban them.”
Gabriel Paun of NGO Animals International alleges the ship had been overloaded and was known to have engine problems as early as last December.
“An investigation must be opened without delay,” he told AFP news agency.
Romania is the bloc’s third-largest sheep breeder, after the United Kingdom and Spain, and a top exporter, primarily to Middle Eastern markets. Activists have labelled the livestock transport vessels – about 100 of which leave Midia every year – “death ships”, saying sheep risk being cooked alive on board during the hot summer months.
In July, Vytenis Andriukaitis, then European commissioner in charge of health and food safety, demanded that Bucharest stop the transport of 70,000 sheep to the Gulf, citing animal welfare.
He has asked the European Commission to investigate Romania’s practices.
The ship, which left Midia at about 12:00 local time (10:00 GMT) according to the BBC, was heading to the Saudi port of Jeddah with its cargo.
Built in 1980, the vessel measures 85m (278ft) and has a gross tonnage of 3,785, according to the Marine Traffic website.
It had reportedly arrived at the port of Midia on 23 November from the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
Pictures showed the upended vessel on its side a few hundred metres from the port, about 20km (12 miles) north of Constanta.
The port is primarily used for the supply of crude oil for nearby industrial and petrochemical facilities. But it is also used by cargo ships carrying live animals from Romania, one of the European Union’s biggest exporters of livestock.
Warning, this video contains upsetting images of the disaster.