Mass Death of Cattle Onboard Ship Bound for Russia

Misery at sea: debilitated cattle lie caked in manure. Perhaps a third or more of the cattle on board died en route or were later euthanized. Photo by RosselkhoznadzorMore than 1,000 breeding dairy cattle of 3,400 cattle shipped from Galveston, Texas, to Russia in August died during the voyage or shortly after arrival. Another 200 animals, too ill to be offloaded, remain unaccounted for and are feared to have been dumped at sea. The deaths have been attributed to a breakdown in manure removal and ventilation systems, causing the animals to suffocate on ammonia fumes. Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) would have been responsible for inspecting the vessel prior to departure, and AWI is pressing the USDA for answers as to what went so terribly wrong.

To animal welfare advocates familiar with this type of disaster, an occurrence involving U.S. cattle was inevitable. Two years ago, large numbers of animals—many of them pregnant dairy cattle—began leaving the United States to establish breeding herds in Turkey, Russia and Kazakhstan. Last year alone, about 100,000 cattle were shipped from the eastern U.S. coast on sea voyages lasting more than two weeks. During transport, many stressful experiences—including inadequate ventilation, loud noises, motion sickness, and heat stress—severely impact animal welfare and make the animals more susceptible to illness and disease.

In early 2011, AWI and the World Society for the Protection of Animals submitted a rulemaking petition to USDA-APHIS. The petition requested that internationally-recognized "fitness to travel" requirements be written into U.S. animal export regulations to lower the risk of morbidity and mortality on long journeys. To date, the USDA has not responded to the petition. AWI is working with a member of its international advisory committee to investigate the shipments and identify ways to better protect animals subjected to long-distance transport by sea.