Buffalo exported by sea to Vietnam in October 2014

August 2017

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On 3 October 2014, South East Asian Livestock Services Pty Ltd (SEALS) exported a consignment of cattle and buffalo from Darwin to Vietnam.

There were seven mortalities in the consignment of 359 buffalo and one mortality in the consignment of 1582 cattle. This resulted in mortality rates of 1.95 percent for the buffalo and 0.06 percent for the cattle. The percentage for buffalo exceeds the reportable mortality level of 1 percent for cattle or buffalo on voyages of ten days or greater duration as prescribed by the Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL). The buffalo consignment is the subject of this report.

After investigation no definitive cause for the mortalities could be determined.

Information reviewed

The department investigated the mortalities by reviewing the following information:

  • report from the exporter
  • end of voyage report, daily voyage reports and additional information from the accredited stockperson who accompanied the consignment on board the vessel
  • load plans and feed dockets from the exporter
  • documents from the Australian Government Accredited Veterinarian (AAV) who prepared the consignment
  • report from the Master of the vessel
  • documents from the regional department veterinary officer (DVO)
  • records from the registered premises
  • department records from previous and subsequent voyages.


This reportable mortality incident is the second recorded in a consignment of buffalo exported by sea since the introduction of ASEL in 2005. The previous incident (Report 42) occurred in October 2011 on a different vessel for a different exporter, on a voyage to Indonesia. There were eight mortalities in a consignment of 452 buffalo. No definitive cause of the mortalities was determined for the previous incident.

Exports of buffalo to Vietnam commenced in February 2014. Between the commencement of exports and this mortality event there had been 11 consignments, carrying 3526 buffalo with eight mortalities, an overall mortality rate of 0.23%. Nine of these consignments were sent by SEALS.

Since April 2005 and before this event SEALS exported 54 buffalo consignments to various Southeast Asian markets. As of 30 June 2017 SEALS have had no other reportable mortality events involving buffalo.

Investigation Findings

The Livestock

The buffalo in the consignment were:

  • approximately 8 – 12 months of age
  • average of 480kg in weight
  • a body condition score of 2.5 - 3 out of 5
The buffalo were sourced from two properties in the Northern Territory.

Preparation in the registered premise

The buffalo were assembled at two registered premises (RP) in Darwin and Katherine, Northern Territory (NT). The buffalo were held at the RPs for at least three days, before they left for loading on 2-3 October 2014. This is above the ASEL requirements for a minimum of 24hrs in a registered premise for short haul voyages with one port loading and one port discharge.

Both RPs had previously been used to prepare buffalo for export for a combined total of 28 consignments. All the mortalities came from the same property of origin, located in the Katherine region, and the buffalo from this property were delivered to the Katherine RP between 5 and 29 September 2014. Buffalo from a second property of origin were prepared at the second RP (no mortalities).

Weather conditions in the RPs were hot throughout the preparation period. During the last 10 days of pre-export preparation, the highest maximum temperature recorded in Katherine was 39.1℃ (BOM, 2014).

An Australian Government Accredited Veterinarian (AAV) inspected the buffalo at the RP between 1–2 October 2014, and a Departmental Veterinary Officer (DVO) inspected the buffalo on 1 October 2014. The buffalo were observed to be healthy with no animals rejected or requiring treatment. Permission to leave for loading was issued on 2 October 2014.

The vessel

This was the first time that SEALS used the vessel involved. As of 30 June 2017 the vessel has not been involved in any other reportable mortality events.

Loading onto the vessel

The DVO reported there were no issues during loading and no buffalo rejected.  The consignment of 359 buffalo was loaded onto deck one of the vessel. The vessel has five decks with deck one being the lowest and deck five being the highest.

A minimum pen area of 1.722m2 per head for buffalo of 480kg exported by sea is prescribed in ASEL. The buffalo in this consignment were allocated 1.67m2 per head (the amount required for cattle). As a result the boat was overloaded by 10 buffalo.

The vessel left Darwin on 3 October 2014 and discharge was completed on 14 October 2014, making this an 11 day voyage. The load plan estimated a voyage length of 7.5 days and space, feed and water calculations were based on this figure. Cattle were loaded at the rates specified in ASEL for voyages of less than 10 days.

SEALS’ voyages to Vietnam take around 9.5 days on average, ranging from 7 to 16 days. During the 2014-15 financial year 11 buffalo consignments were sent to Vietnam by SEALS with an average estimated voyage length of 8 days. During the 2016-17 financial year four consignments were sent, using an average estimated voyage length of 10 days.

Documents were provided to demonstrate that 220 MT of fodder was loaded. This was above the requirements based on ASEL and calculated in the load plan, specifying 2 percent of live weight daily minimum feed allowance, and an expected journey length of 7.5 days plus 20 percent of days extra, 163 MT was required. Due to the extra 57 MT loaded there was sufficient feed to offer the minimum allowance throughout the 11 day voyage.

Conditions during the journey

On this voyage the Australian Livestock Export Corporation Ltd (LiveCorp) Accredited stockperson was responsible for reporting to the department and working with the master of the vessel and the crew to maintain the health and welfare of the livestock on board.

From day 3 until completion of the voyage, the buffalo and cattle consumed an average of 8.35kg of fodder/head/day. Feed intake was recorded as an average for all animals on board, and was not broken down by species or class. The average falls below the ASEL requirement for a minimum feed allowance of 2.0 percent of live weight per animal per day giving a total of 9.6kg/head/day for 480kg buffalo. However while feed intake is reported below the minimum feed allowance there is no indication that sufficient feed was not available.  

On day 3 the stockperson reported cattle did not adjust to the pellets very well. The stockperson reported dusty pellets in the silo on day 4, and all troughs were cleaned on day 5. The dusty pellets were also mentioned on the end of voyage report. The stockperson reported the cattle only began to eat better around day 8; no mention was made of the buffalo. The stockman reported that all animals had sufficient water available at all times.

During the voyage the wet bulb temperatures on deck 1 was recorded between 26℃ and 28℃ and the relative humidity ranged between 79 percent and 80 percent. There were no reports of rough seas during the voyage. Some issues with deck condition were noted around day 5 due to rain, but these were mainly on the cattle decks, and improved following washing. Weather conditions during the voyage were not observed to have contributed to the buffalo mortalities.

The stockperson’s daily voyage reports (DVR) noted some adjustments required to the cattle stocking rates in the first few days of the voyage, which is usual as animals acclimatise following loading.

Mortalities and treatments

There were a total of seven buffalo mortalities in the consignment of 359, leading to a final mortality rate of 1.95 per cent.  The first mortality was recorded on day six. Four of the buffalo mortalities occurred during the voyage, and the other three buffalo mortalities were the result of euthanasia in port at Vietnam as they were determined to be unfit for discharge. Details of mortalities are presented in Table 1.

Table 1: Information on buffalo mortality

Mortality Date

Voyage Day

Treatment or Post mortem

Reported cause



Treated for pneumonia

Initially thought pneumonia, subsequently attributed to capture myopathy



Lungs good, cause of death not determined during post mortem examination

Capture myopathy




Capture myopathy




Capture myopathy



Unfit for discharge




Unfit for discharge




Unfit for discharge


DVRs submitted by the accredited stockperson on board, did not describe any health or welfare issues with the buffalo except for the first mortality. This animal was treated for suspected bovine respiratory disease (BRD) on day 5, and recorded as a mortality on day 6.  No post mortem was performed.

The only post mortem performed during the voyage was completed on the second buffalo mortality (day 7). This was recorded on the DVR, and did not return a definitive diagnosis for the death. There were no abnormalities observed in lung tissue suggesting BRD may not be the cause of death for the second buffalo mortality. The stockperson noted this raised doubts for him over BRD being the cause of the first mortality. The stockperson later noted in an expanded End of Voyage (EOV) report the muscles were pale and stiff, especially in the hind legs, this was attributed to Capture Myopathy following the SEALS’ investigations.

The buffalo mortalities were all sourced from the same property of origin. During their investigations SEALS determined that the buffalo had been stressed during mustering and trucking in hot weather conditions. They could not definitively diagnose the cause of the mortalities; however they suggested mortality was due to the onset of Capture Myopathy or White Muscle Disease. The exporter based this finding on discussions they had about the symptoms and mustering conditions with buffalo suppliers, a veterinarian and a buffalo researcher.

Australian Maritime and Safety Authority Evaluation of the Vessel

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) did not conduct an investigation because the voyage mortality level of all livestock species combined (cattle and buffalo) according to the definitions in Section 2 of Marine Order 43 was less than 1 percent. ASEL requires mortalities to be reported on by species.

Exporter’s Actions

To address the risk of Capture Myopathy SEALS advised suppliers to ensure that buffalo were not mustered in hot conditions, and to monitor buffalo during the transition period following mustering, and allow sufficient rest and adaptation prior to trucking to the RP.

SEALS considered the overload occurred due to human error. Following this event SEALS has invested in staff training and developing systems to ensure load plans meet ASEL requirements. The department’s analysis of estimated voyage length shows that these have increased and are consistent with the actual voyage length. The Approved Arrangement has been reviewed by SEALS to ensure that requirements for different species and a reasonable voyage length are included when developing the load plan. The Approved Arrangement is audited by the department at regular intervals.

Between this event and 30 June 2017 SEALS have sent 17 consignments of buffalo to Vietnam carrying a total of 3816 head with 9 mortalities recorded (overall mortality rate 0.24%).


The department’s review found buffalo were not loaded in accordance with ASEL requirements, with the area less than the minimum requirement. The feed intake of the buffalo was found to be less than ASEL requirements. The amount of feed loaded was sufficient to meet the daily allocation required, although the short predicted voyage length was concerning. The feed quality appears to have caused reduced voluntary intake. These factors were not considered to have caused the mortality event directly.

The department assessed the finding by SEALS that the cause of the mortality incident may be due to the buffalo being mustered in hot weather and the subsequent onset of Capture Myopathy as reasonable. The department accepts that actions taken by SEALS address this as a possible cause.

The department reviewed the information and could not determine a definitive cause of the mortalities and understands it is likely that the cause was multifactorial. A combination of hot weather during mustering and preparation, poor transitioning after capture, overloading of the buffalo, poor feed intake on board the vessel, poor quality feed and Capture Myopathy—as suggested by SEALS—are thought to have led to the buffalo mortalities. The department accepts that actions taken by SEALS are adequate to address the mortality.

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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