Hundreds of Thousands of Animals Got Stuck in the Suez Canal

Hundreds of Thousands of Animals Got Stuck in the Suez Canal
In this photo released by Suez Canal Authority, the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship is pulled by tugboats, in the Suez Canal. (Photo: Suez Canal Authority, AP)
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The Ever Given is no longer stuck in the Suez Canal, but we’re still dealing with the fallout of the near-weeklong blockage. One of the saddest effects is that thousands of animals will die untimely deaths.

When the 400-metre-long Ever Given first got lodged in the canal last week, it prevented some 100 other cargo ships from passing through. At least 20 of those ships had live animals onboard. According to estimates made by the animal rights nonprofit Animals International, those 20 ships likely contained a combined 200,000 animals, including sheep, cattle, and other livestock. It’s like a really depressing version of Noah’s Ark.

Even though workers finally successfully dislodged the boat earlier this week, all those creatures likely face a grim fate. After spending days stuck in the canal, the cargo carriers the animals are on are quickly running out of food and water.

That’s the case even though some ships were legally obligated to prepare for a situation like this. European Union law states that ships carrying live animals need to load 25% more feed than is necessary for their trips in case they experience delays. But a representative from Animals International told the EU Observer that shippers often shirk those responsibilities, and that even with that additional 25% of supplies on board, ships’ journeys have been too far delayed for the preparation to make much of a difference.

To be clear, these animals are all livestock, and it’s not as though they were packed onto these ships to be sent to frolic in beautiful pastures. Sheep were set to be stripped for wool, cattle were set to be milked and eaten. But still, the situation shows the cruelty of the live-export trade, which treats animals like commodities instead of living beings. Livestock are crammed tightly into cargo containers and often abused. There are reports of creatures on these ships falling and getting trampled to death and drowning when ships sink. Even in normal times, this process is pretty grim.

“Occasionally, there are real scandals when things go wrong, but it’s a day-to-day horror,” Peter Stevenson, chief policy officer at animal-welfare group Compassion in World Farming, told Bloomberg.

All this international livestock trading isn’t just cruel, it’s also unsustainable. Animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions and destroys grasslands’ ability to sequester carbon, worsening the climate crisis. Sending livestock all over the world on giant ships creates still more climate-warming emissions.

Putting aside the ethics of eating meat, it may seem wasteful to ship animals hundreds or even thousands of miles when they could raised in the country where they’ll eventually be consumed. But really the disaster unfolding in the Suez Canal this week is part of a bigger problem with what passes for “efficiency.” Shipping is responsible for more than 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year, and plenty of those emissions are the result of ridiculously wasteful processes. Hundreds of thousands of empty shipping containers circle the world each month because it’s cheaper than filling them up, but doing so also takes a heavy toll on the planet. As the Suez Canal disaster shows, the animal trade is similarly wasteful in that regard.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink how we treat animals, not just out of altruism, but also for the sake of everything on the planet — including ourselves.