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310974

After hellish voyage, pariah cattleship checked by Spanish veterinarians

By Marco Trujillo and Nathan Allen

CARTAGENA, Spain, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Spanish government veterinarians were on Friday inspecting hundreds of cows crammed aboard a ship that returned to port after months at sea in which the animals endured what one NGO described as "hellish" conditions.

The Karim Allah docked at the southeastern Spanish port of Cartagena on Thursday after drifting for months through the Mediterranean, struggling to find a buyer for its 895 cattle, which were rejected by several countries over fears they had bovine bluetongue virus.

"The inspection will continue throughout today. The information gathered will be analysed and appropriate decisions will be taken," the Agriculture Ministry said.

If they test positive for the insect-borne bluetongue virus, which causes lameness and haemorrhaging, the cows will be immediately destroyed, said Miguel Masramon, a lawyer representing the shipowner, Talia Shipping Line.

In that case, they cannot be sold for food and the shipment would have to be written off. If the cattle are cleared, they can be resold for live export.

Two vans and a truck carrying an electric generator pulled up on the quayside next to the vessel on Friday morning, Reuters witnesses said. Photos provided by Talia showed the cows stuck in cramped conditions aboard the ship.

Initially destined for sale in Turkey, authorities there blocked the shipment and suspended live animal imports from Spain, saying the cows might have bluetongue. Turkey did not test the animals but an outbreak was recently detected in the Spanish province of Huesca.

That rejection turned the ship into an international pariah, with various countries refusing it entry even to replenish animal feed and forcing the cows to go several days with just water.

"Fifteen calves have died. That's a success because they have been on board for two months without being able to disembark anywhere," Masramon said on Thursday. The originally planned voyage to Turkey took just nine days.

However, Animal Welfare Foundation, a nonprofit group that lobbies against live exports, said it believed more than 100 cattle had died.

"Those that are still alive are...suffering truly hellish conditions," said Silvia Barquero, director of animal rights group Igualdad Animal.

Who owns the shipment is unclear. The original exporter, World Trade, says it is not responsible for the cattle as it already sold them, 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.

(Reporting by Emma Pinedo and Nathan Allen in Madrid, and Juan Medina and Marco Trujillo in Cartagena; Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul, Writing by Nathan Allen; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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