Sad Saga of Livestock Carrier Capsizing Continues…

Vimal Kumar

“Do you recall when the last livestock carrier capsized?” I asked my friend. Once, we both were project engineers of a livestock conversion project in Singapore. While gulping beer, he said carelessly, “It does happen almost every year, but who cares?” He looked again at me, now with a hint of question and surprise. “Why are you asking me; has another one capsized as well?”

Yes, another one capsized as well! Not in a very uncommon way. Capsized in a similar way as many others. This time again, just on the jetty like livestock carrier Haidar and Queen Hind.

On 11 June 2022, livestock carrier Al Badri 1 capsized and sank along the pier at Suakin Port, Sudan. All crew members were saved but around 15,000 cattle met the destiny of death. The vessel is reported to be 49 years old and built as a roll-on, roll-off cargo vessel. It was converted into a livestock carrier. Overload is reported to be the most probable cause of capsizing. This is not just one, but a continued history of accidents on livestock carriers.

History of Livestock Carrier Disaster

There has been a continued history of capsizing, grounding, catching fire, losing stability, flooding the coast with the stench smell of carcass, and even toppling on the jetty. Here is a list of some of similar accidents:

  • Two years back, on 2 September 2020, the livestock carrier Gulf Livestock 1 with 43 crew members and nearly 6,000 cattle capsized and sank off the coast of Japan after reportedly losing an engine in rough seas caused by Typhoon Maysak. Merely two crew members survived. The accident led to the loss of 41 human and approximately 600 animals. The vessel was built as a container ship in 2002 and later she was converted to a livestock carrier in 2015. She was 18 years old.
  • On 24 November 2019, the Palau-registered livestock carrier Queen Hind with 14,000 sheep onboard developed a list and sank in Midia Port, Romania. The vessel was resting on its starboard side, half of the hull remaining above water. All 22 crew members were rescued. However, merely 32 sheep were rescued having been found swimming in the sea, while many were believed to have drowned. The ship was built in 1980 as a car carrier and later converted into a livestock carrier. She was 39 years old.
  • On 8 July 2019, Albaraka II goes down in heavy weather in the Gulf of Aden. Two crew and about 3,000 animals were found to be missing. She was built as a cargo ship in 1971 and converted to a livestock carrier in 2010.
  • In May 2019, Boi Branco caught fire while berthed at Piraeus port, Greece. The 41 crew members were safely evacuated.
  • On 15 January 2019, another livestock carrier Wardeh ran aground in the Mediterranean Sea near Mersin, Turkey. The vessel had been at anchor when it was struck by a severe storm. The vessel’s anchors failed to hold, and the vessel was dragged. Later, strong winds and large waves broke over her decks and forced water to ingress below deck and, as a result, the vessel developed a heavy list. 
  • On 6 October 2015, Haidar capsized while berthed at Barcarena, Brazil. The vessel was loaded with 5,000 cattle and was preparing to depart for Venezuela. The vessel lost stability and sank onto its port side. There were no reports of injuries, but thousands of cattle were trapped onboard and perished. A small number of cattle managed to escape to the side of the vessel. Haidar was built in 1994. Like many others, she was built as a containership and later converted to a livestock carrier.
  • In August 2015, the 1972-built Panama-flagged Nabolsi I caught fire in the Mediterranean Sea off Lerapetra, Crete.
  • Just a few months prior, in May 2015, another livestock carrier Asia Raya carrying 634 cows, caught fire. All 37 crew members were rescued; however, it is reported that many cattle lost their lives.
  • In October 2014, a fire broke out onboard the Ocean Drover while she was docked at Fremantle port. No loss of life of humans or animals was reported.
  • In August 2014, livestock carrier Amadeo I with more than 200 cattle was grounded. All crew members were rescued but there is no information about the survivability of cattle. The ship was later towed out to sea and scuttled. She was built in 1976 as a ro-ro cargo ship, never converted, and carried livestock and other cargo. The ship was 38 years old.
  • In August 2013, a fire broke out onboard the livestock carrier Estancia while she was anchored off Berbera in the Gulf of Aden.
  • On 29 October 2010, Gamma Livestock 12 was engulfed by fire. It drifted and grounded near Al Butayah in Yemen. The wreck was abandoned. Completed in 1961 as a cargo ship, and converted to carry livestock in 1978, the ship was 49 years old.
  • On 17 December 2009, the livestock carrier DANNY F II capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. 18 people were recorded dead and 25 were missing. Along with human lives, almost 18,000 cattle and more than 10,000 sheep were perished. The ship was built in 1976 as a car carrier and later converted to a livestock carrier in 1994. The ship was 33 years old.

Grounding, capsizing, fire, and death are uncommonly common on livestock carriers. Taking a glance at the continued capsizing of livestock carriers, I recall a quote by John A Shedd. “A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” What if ships are not safe in even harbour and topple on the pier where paper boats are also stable? Can we call that ship a ship?

Why Livestock carriers are so susceptible to risks?

Livestock carriers are a unique type of ship intended to transport cattle across oceans. There are not many of this type of ships operating globally. As per Equasis data, there are around 150 livestock carriers operating at this point in time.

The average life of the current fleet is approximately 38 years. Some of the oldest operating livestock but not limited to the following are Capitaine II, Kalymnian Express, Saed I, and Sea Star Livestock. These are almost 58-60 years old.


Age is not only the problem for these ships, but many of them were never built to transport animals in the first place. These vessels are not intrinsically designed as livestock carriers; rather, their existing design is changed in the latter part of the hull’s life to make it fit for the expected purpose.

Sometimes, the appropriateness of its purpose seems satisfactorily merely on paper and record. Rarely, a livestock carrier is built from scratch and designed considering strength, stability, and the genuine needs of the cattle’s need. Most of the ships trading today are converted from either box ship, car carrier or general cargo vessel which has a finer hull shape unlike the fuller hull shape of bulk carrier and tanker. As a result, the vessel can attain a higher speed. However, the urge to opt for a finer hull to ensure better speed comes with a compromise: reduced transverse stability. Also, the addition of multiple decks worsens the issue related to the transverse stability of the ship.

Converted livestock carriers are fitted with multiple decks to accommodate more cattle. This enhances the windage area which adversely affects the transverse stability of the ship again. These two combinations – selection of a finer hull & addition of multiple decks – result in difficulties to comply with weather criteria of the IMO Intact Stability Code.

Another problem such vessels encounter in maintaining the vertical centre of gravity (VCG) of the cargo in the form of thousands of cattle. In accordance with the stability requirements of any vessel, VCG must not exceed the permissible value, which is fixed and mainly dependent on hull form and operating draft. On the other side, the actual VCG of a hull is crucially and critically dependent on the location of livestock on the designated deck. Any alteration to the loading pattern has the immense possibility to allow actual VCG higher than the permissible value. In case the loading pattern is left uncontrolled, the situation can jeopardize the stability of a whole vessel. The capsizing of a vessel on a jetty strongly suggests that the vessel’s VCG exceeded the limit. That leads to another layer of reasoning: expected loading conditions were not followed, and its importance was undermined.

Most of the livestock carriers are significantly older. Such vessels are converted to livestock carriers from their parent hull after almost operating for 15 – 20 years in their original hull form. At the moment, the average life of operating livestock carriers is 38 years. As the vessel gets older, the fatigue strength of the structure reduces and enhances the chance of catastrophic failure. Moreover, the main engine, propulsion system and other machinery are rarely renewed during conversion, which has the strong possibility of frequent failure at sea as unfortunately witnessed by the Gulf Livestock 1.

There are numerous factors like age, hull shape, cattle behaviour, machinery failure, etc., that make livestock prone to serious accidents.

What could be the viable solutions?

At this point in time, there are around 150 livestock carriers are operating globally. In comparison to the total number of ships, the number of livestock carriers is significantly low. However, the number of accidents livestock carriers encounter in the form of fire, capsizing, and grounding is considerably higher. As observed by Guardian, ships carrying live animals are at least twice as likely to suffer a “total loss” from sinking or grounding in comparison to standard cargo vessels. To break the ugly trend, there is a need to look with a fresh perspective on their design, construction, and operation.

In terms of design, regulatory bodies and involved stakeholders need a serious look at strength and stability requirements specific to a livestock carrier and their intended operation. Classification societies —­ in other words recognized organizations (RO) acting on behalf of the Administration — who take care of strength aspects of ships, may consider specific notation and standards which are specific to livestock carriers. Such an approach will bring uniformity in safety standards among livestock carriers like any other ship type. Eventually, such an approach may pave the path for safer livestock carriers.

Considering the accident patterns, reduced stability or uncontrolled VCG are the fundamental commonalities among the majority of failures. Having indicated earlier, reduced stability is the consequence of the selection of a finer hull and the addition of multiple decks. Moving away from the finer monohulled construction is a convincing choice to avoid such failure. Innately, such hulls are not adequately stable and deemed not fit for the intended purpose as a livestock carrier. Replacing the same with a multihull like a catamaran or a trimaran will significantly enhance stability, which is the weakest element of most livestock carriers today. Simultaneously, the choice of such a multihull will not compromise on the urge for better speed for the ship as well.

From an operation point of view, as observed in few accidents’ investigation reports, animal movement aggravates the problem when the vessel is in danger. As the vessel starts listing towards one side or experiences rough weather, cattle also start moving in the same direction. If unrestricted, such a situation leaves the ship in a vicious cycle and pushes it closer to capsizing or endangering the ship itself. Such problems are relatively easier to manage. A similar problem arises because of partially filled tanks as well. In other words, the effect is called “Free Surface Effects.” This is effectively managed by reducing tank area and addition of swash bulkheads. A similar approach for livestock carriers seems reasonable to approach. Space to carry cattle is to be effectively barricaded in smaller spaces to restrict the movement of cattle in case of an untoward situation. Also, heel/trim sensing devices and heel/trim compensation systems were found to be effective for the vessel which experiences sudden heel, and so it will be for livestock carriers as well.

To conclude, in one way or another, we appear to believe that cattle that are in anyway intended for slaughter, what change does it make if they perish in such a ship accident? From the tangible point of view, it does not make any changes except the loss of planetary resources in the form of food. However, on a subtle level, such an inhuman approach toward animals paves the path for an inhuman approach toward humans as well. Such an approach and industries which are inconsiderate towards the brutality of animals will slowly become inconsiderate towards humans as well. As we hear more about such accidents, slowly and silently, we become desensitised to such death and disaster. Unfortunately, the livestock carrier industry seems to inch in that direction. There is a need to invoke the sensitivity of industry. There is a need to work towards a safer livestock carrier which is not only safe for cattle but considerate towards humans and their consciousness as well.

The opinions expressed within the content are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the website or its affiliates.