Thousands of Sheep Die on Ship After Drinking Seawater

Three thousand sheep died after a livestock export from Sudan was rejected by Saudi Arabia, causing thousands to become dehydrated and drink seawater.

According to a Sudanese government minister, 58,000 sheep were rejected by Saudi Arabia on the basis of not meeting correct quarantine inoculation requirements.

Some sheep died of hunger and thirst while being held on the vessel. Others drowned.

The livestock was not properly vaccinated against diseases like Rift Valley fever.

In September 2019, Sudanese government ministers notified the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) of an outbreak of Rift Valley fever. Restrictions on the nation's trade ensued.

Saudi Arabia banned imports from Sudan following the news. It was a huge blow, considering around 70 percent of Sudan's livestock goes to the Gulf nation.

Livestock exports to Gulf countries have since resumed, but with regulations. Sheep are held in the Port of Sudan before being shipped to countries including Saudi. In the holding port they are given immunizations for HS (Hemorrhagic septicemia), PPR (Peste des petits ruminants) and Rift Valley fever.

Sudan's minister of animal resources, Adil Farah, said some exporters had recently meddled with the quarantine procedures, which eventually resulted in the death of many sheep.

"We have problems in our quarantines in some of the states, especially in eastern Sudan in Kassala and Gadarif states," he said to The Guardian. "The animal quarantines are open so some of the exporters are cheats and might have got inside the quarantines after we vaccinated the animals and replaced some of them—that's the problem."

The sheep were still on board the vessel after quarantines had been broken. They were waiting to be returned to Sudan, but many of the sheep were thirsty and drank seawater.

"The losers in this process at the end are the small producers in the western parts of Sudan where most of the cattle come from," said Farah.

Livestock exports are vital to Sudan's economy, totaling more than $500 million a year.

When Sudan discovered Rift Valley fever, many exporters and farmers suffered a devastating financial blow.

Sheep on boat
Sheep for export. 3,000 sheep were left to die on a vessel, after not meeting Saudi Arabian import quarantine procedures DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images

Siddiq Hedob, from an independent livestock exporters' body in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, claimed approximately 30 percent of exporters have suffered.

"When the minister of health announced the decision [to announce the discovery of Rift Valley fever], there were about 80,000 sheep at Port Sudan waiting to be transferred to Saudi but it didn't happen, even though they were all healthy," Hedob said to The Guardian. "So they spent about four days without food or drinking water and many of them had died."

The longer livestock is stored due to bans and quarantine measures, the more it costs exporters.

The high demand for livestock in Gulf countries has raised prices in Sudan so much that some local buyers can no longer afford the animals, according to livestock trader Mahmoud Adam, who works in the Omdurman Popular market.

"The high demand for Sudanese livestock in Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, has pushed up demand and this has raised prices in local markets," he told Middle Eastern Monitor.