The Australian Livestock Exporters Council’s (ALEC) has moved to boost working conditions in Australia’s live export trade by agreeing to ensure that any vessel trading livestock out of Australia has either a national collective agreement or an International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) agreement ensuring the rights and conditions for crews.
“This is a progressive move,” says Australian ITF Coordinator, Dean Summers. “The change will impact the lives of many hundreds of seafarers by ensuring that all vessels trading livestock out of Australia will meet ITF standards. Going to sea is a very dangerous industry and exposes seafarers to unscrupulous influences. This decision guarantees minimum standards for pay, working conditions and a safety net for families of workers killed or injured.”
The industry has come under fire over the last few years after former live export veterinarian Dr. Lynn Simpson described conditions for crew that she had witnessed during her time on board live export ships, sailing for different companies and flag states for over a decade up until 2010.
“Knowing the disparity of money was something that was depressing for a lot of the crew,” says Simpson.
“They knew that the Australian stockmen were on much higher wages than they were.”
She also cites crew working conditions as potentially problematic.
“One of the interesting things about our ships compared to the majority of merchant vessels is that we have a crew of 50 to 100. It’s a bigger crew than most ships, and considering most of them are conversions, it’s a bigger crew than most of them are originally designed for. So, often, the accommodation has been retrofitted, and it’s quite cramped. There’ll be four in a cabin, and there might only be a meter between the bunks. Often there’s no ensuite; the crew will use a communal bathroom.”
She says that livestock carriers face different stability conditions as their weight changes due to the animals’ consumption of food and water. Ship movement at sea can make working in pens with large animals dangerous. Crew members can also be exposed to raised levels of ammonia, carbon dioxide and methane – from the animals themselves and their waste, particularly in hot weather.
Although ships have alarms in place, the considerable noise produced by the ventilation system, food and water delivery systems and the animals themselves can make it difficult to hear emergency alarms, she says.
In the case of the Danny F II, which sank in December 2009, a problem was encountered during the rescue of the crew. The vessel capsized in adverse weather about 15 miles off the coast of Lebanon with over 10,000 sheep and over 17,000 cattle on board. Simpson was not directly involved with the incident, but she explains that sheep and cattle need to continually burp and fart in order to maintain digestive functioning. They can’t do this while swimming, and, along with the weather conditions, their gas-filled bodies are said to have hampered rescue efforts. One reason for this was that the men’s heads would have been hard to spot amidst the bloated bellies of the livestock drowning alongside them in the water.
When rescue operations ceased after some 72 hours, 40 men had been rescued, 11 had been found dead and 32 remained missing.
Today’s livestock carrier fleet consists of around 120 vessels; many of them converted ro-ros, container ships or tankers. The fleet is the oldest saltwater segment in the industry.
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