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Live cattle exports: Napier Port sees off another livestock carrier but for how much longer?

Will Napier Port continue to facilitate the controversial live cattle export trade in future? Photo / File

Napier Port is the latest to host a ship loading New Zealand live cattle for China – but it’s not guaranteed the port will continue to facilitate the controversial trade in future.

A spokesman for the NZX-listed company, responding to Herald questions about the port’s view of the trade, said it was one of several business aspects being considered under sustainability planning.

“We are developing a sustainability strategy for our business, which will help us to determine our priorities going forward.”

Livestock carrier the Ocean Ute left Napier Port on Friday morning carrying 4407 cattle for breeding after being diverted unexpectedly from Port Taranaki because of west coast sea conditions.

The Ocean Ute is headed for the Chinese port of Caofeidian, in the Hebei province.

Animal rights group Safe NZ said it was the second livestock carrier to tie up this year.

Two protests were held at New Plymouth before the vessel was diverted.

Safe spokesman Will Appelbe said the ship was scheduled to dock in China on February 8, but history had shown voyage lengths to err on the optimistic side.

Meanwhile, ports that accept livestock carriers as revenue earners – Napier, New Plymouth and Timaru – along with farmers, animal exporters and activists, are still awaiting the outcome of a Government review of its policy on the trade.

It’s taken well over a year so far and there’s still no word on when a decision on future policy will be announced. MPI told the Herald this week officials’ advice was being finalised for the Minister of Agriculture and he was expected to take the paper to Cabinet “in due course”.

MPI received and analysed 3500 submissions after a nine-week public consultation. Submissions closed in January last year.

The review gained extra attention from all sides after the loss of 41 crew, including two New Zealanders, and nearly 6000 female dairy and beef cattle from New Zealand when a carrier sank off the coast of Japan in September. The ship had loaded at Napier Port and was headed for China.

The trade has also attracted more attention after a big jump in live cattle exports last year.

MPI has confirmed 104,147 cattle were exported last year. This was compared to 39,000 in 2019. MPI website figures show a total of 76,215 cattle were exported from ports at New Plymouth, Napier and Timaru between February 1 and August 25 last year – 111 died en route. All the cattle went to China. The 2020 cattle total includes those on the ship lost at sea, but not the mortalities.

New Zealand live dairy cow exports to China are increasing.  Photo / File
New Zealand live dairy cow exports to China are increasing. Photo / File

Safe this week called on Port Taranaki owner, the Taranaki Regional Council, to ban livestock carriers, saying “the people of Taranaki have made it clear they don’t want their port to facilitate live exports”.

Regional council director – corporate services, Mike Nield, said the Government set the rules and policy for the live export trade and the port operated within them.

“The council understands and respects that Safe has views that differ from current Government policy. Councillors engaged directly with campaigners when they made a deputation to a council meeting in November 2020.”

Nield said in line with the Port Companies Act 1988, Port Taranaki had an independent board and management and the council could not be involved in its operational matters.

“The council itself has not formed a view on live animal exports, as this is a matter for central government. While the council understands the views of Safe, it has not run a consultation or engagement process to understand the regional community’s views on this matter.”

The spokesman for Napier Port said it knew many people felt strongly about livestock exports.

“…On all sides of the debate stakeholders are urging the Government to conclude its review of live exports. We are awaiting the outcome with interest and as always, will operate under government directive.”

Canterbury’s PrimePort Timaru is a major gateway for live animal exports. The world’s biggest livestock carrier Ocean Drover called there twice last year, loading about 22,000 cattle for China.

Chief executive Phil Melhopt said the port’s policy was to provide access and services to livestock exporters.

“We note that MPI oversees livestock exports and provide the required certifications.”

He was not aware of any formal requests for PrimePort to ban the ship calls.

The income from livestock exports was “not insignificant” to PrimePort and “contributes to the resilience and sustainability of an important regional port”.

In 2019 Safe complained that unlike other ports, PrimePort was not showing livestock carriers on its online shipping schedules.

At the time, Melhopt said it was up to port customers to decide if they wanted their ships listed.

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