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Romania halts sheep rescue from capsized ship

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Bucharest (AFP)

Five days of efforts to pull sheep from a capsized ship saved 254 of the animals, but the operation ended with the death of many thousands more, rescue services said Saturday.

The cargo ship Queen Hind capsized last Sunday as it left the southeastern port of Midia with 14,600 sheep bound for Saudi Arabia.

"As soon as the situation allows for it, the ship will be set upright and towed back to a quay," said Ana-Maria Stoica, spokeswoman for Romania's General Directorate for Emergency Situations (IGSU).

"The animal carcasses will then be extracted from the hold and taken to incinerators," she told AFP.

It has not yet been determined what caused the ship to keel over, but the non-governmental organisation Animals International claimed it was overloaded.

The crew of 20 Syrians and one Lebanese aboard the Queen Hind, which was registered in Palau, were rescued shortly after the accident.

According to the animal protection association Arca Animal Rescue & Care, 254 sheep were brought to shore alive, but it charged that had rescuers intervened faster, "thousands could have been saved."

The accident has drawn fresh attention to the controversial sea transport of livestock.

Romania is the third biggest producer of sheep in the European Union and has exported millions in the past two years, in particular to Jordan and Libya.

In July, the European commissioner in charge of health and food safety demanded that Bucharest stop the transport of 70,000 sheep to the Gulf because of animal welfare concerns.

Animal rights groups have already criticized the conditions under which such shipments take place, especially during hot summer months.

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