A long-awaited report into the events at Ramsgate port that led to the slaughter of more than 40 sheep has been published with a number of recommendations.

In September, a consignment of 540 sheep was unloaded at the Kent port, which resulted in three sheep drowning and more than 40 others having to be humanely killed.

Following the incident, farm minister David Heath asked the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) to review its operational procedures.

This included the application of EU rules on welfare during transport to livestock exporters to ensure that all was done to prevent such an incident happening again.

The terms of reference for the report were to investigate:

  • The overall handling of the incident
  • AHVLA’s procedures for managing inspections at Ramsgate and how the agency works alongside other bodies present at the port during inspections
  • The contingency arrangements required by the transporter and any additional contingency arrangements needed by AHVLA as the regulator.

An AHVLA spokesman summarised the findings of the report, saying: “The sheep had been off-loaded from the transport vehicle to allow AHVLA and RSPCA inspectors access to injured animal.

“While suitable transport was being arranged to move the animals from the port, all the sheep were examined by AHVLA and RSPCA and the lame animals were separated for additional examination.

“Forty-one lame animals were identified and AHVLA and RSPCA vets agreed the sheep were unfit to be transported and would need to be humanely destroyed on site.

“The 41 were closed in a pen, shielded from public view by RSPCA officers assisted by the AHVLA under the direction of a vet.”

Following the review of its procedures, the AHVLA has identified a “number of enhancements” to its existing operational practices.

The agency aims to introduce these measures to ensure that there is no repeat of the horrific events that took place at Ramsgate port on 12 September.

These procedural changes include: inspection of every consignment passing through Ramsgate; tougher enforcement of welfare procedures; and the AHVLA implementing its own contingency plans in the event of an emergency if the transporter is unwilling or unable to implement their own plans within two hours.

The AHVLA said the report had highlighted the need for improved procedures to ensure an AHVLA vet was always within an hour of the port to assist AHVLA inspectors in the event of an emergency or welfare concern.

The AHVLA said it would work with the operator of the transport vessel – the MV Joline – to develop new contingency measures in the event of an emergency.

It would also restrict changes that the transporter can make to the journey log of the delivery prior to the export. “This will help maintain clear records of the animals during the journey,” the AHVLA said in a statement.

Commenting on the report’s findings, Mr Heath said: “The events at Ramsgate on 12 September that led to the deaths of more than 40 sheep were truly shocking, which is why I asked the AHVLA to carry out a review of what happened.

“Kent County Council Trading Standards requested that publication of the report was withheld while they carried out their own investigations into events that day, but this did not delay us from taking action to prevent this sort of tragedy ever happening again.

“Last December we tightened up procedures to deal with breaches of welfare standards and AHVLA will continue to check every consignment of live animals scheduled to pass through Ramsgate until I am completely satisfied there is no risk to welfare.”

The AHVLA published the report on Monday (4 March), despite impending criminal proceedings against a number of defendants by Kent County Council under the Welfare of Transport Order 2006. Also, the RSPCA is pushing for a High Court ban on all live animal exports out of Ramsgate for animal welfare reasons.

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