More than 850 cows that spent months aboard a ship wandering across the Mediterranean are not fit for transport anymore and should be killed, according to a confidential report by Spanish government veterinarians seen by Reuters.
The cows were kept in what an animal rights activist called "hellish" conditions on the Karim Allah, which docked in the southeastern Spanish port of Cartagena on Thursday after struggling to find a buyer for the cattle during the past two months.
The beasts were rejected by several countries over fears they had bovine bluetongue virus. The insect-borne virus causes lameness and haemorrhaging among cattle. Bluetongue does not affect humans.
The veterinarians' report concluded that the animals had suffered from the lengthy journey. Some of them were unwell and not fit for transport outside of the European Union, nor should they be allowed in the EU. Euthanasia would be the best solution for their health and welfare, it said.
The report did not say if the cattle had bluetongue disease.
"It is not even mentioned, which is very surprising," said Miquel Masramon, a lawyer representing the ship owner Talia Shipping Line. The ship is registered in Lebanon, according to VesselFinder.
"My impression is that they will definitely go ahead with the slaughter and destruction of the animals and it'll be difficult for us to prevent it," he said.
Masramon said he would push for the return of blood samples taken from the animals and impounded by authorities on Thursday to be released and tested "to prove if there is any bluetongue".
The Agriculture Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It said earlier on Friday that it would make appropriate decisions after analysing information from the inspection.
The vessel originally left Cartagena to deliver the cattle to Turkey. But authorities there blocked the shipment and suspended live animal imports from Spain, fearing bluetongue infection.
That rejection turned the ship into an international pariah. Several countries refused it entry even to replenish animal feed, forcing the cows to go several days with just water.
The cows likely have severe health problems after their "hellish" crossing, said animal rights activist Silvia Barquero, director of the Igualdad Animal NGO.
"What has happened to the waste produced by all these animals for two months? We are sure they are in unacceptable sanitary conditions," Barquero told Reuters.
The Agriculture Ministry's experts counted 864 animals alive on board. Twenty-two cows died at sea, with two corpses still aboard. The remains of the others that died were chopped up and thrown overboard during the journey, the report said.
Ownership of the cattle is unclear. The exporter, World Trade, said it is not responsible because it sold the animals, Masramon said. Reuters has been unable to reach World Trade for comment.
A second ship, the ElBeik, also set sail from Spain in December with a cargo of nearly 1,800 cows. It is currently moored off the Turkish Cypriot port of Famagusta.