MADRID (Reuters) - More than 850 cows that have spent months on a ship in the Mediterranean are no longer fit for transport and should be killed, Spain's Agriculure Ministry said on Saturday, confirming an earlier Reuters report.
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 animals 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.
A confidential veterinarians' report seen by Reuters on Friday concluded that the animals had suffered from the lengthy journey and euthanasia would be the best solution for their health and welfare (nL1N2KW3EG).
The report did not say if the cattle had bluetongue disease.
In a statement on Saturday the Agriculture Ministry confirmed the report's findings and said the ship's owners should kill the cattle.
"They should proceed to isolate and slaughter the animals in accordance with the applicable regulations and, in the case of not doing so, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will do it in a subsidiary way."
Miquel Masramon, a lawyer representing the ship owner Talia Shipping Line, called for samples taken from the animals and impounded by authorities on Thursday to be returned so they could be tested for bluetongue.
"It (the report) does not mention any serious diseases that explain why these animals must be destroyed," he said.
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, registered in Lebanon, into an international pariah, as several more countries refused it entry.
(Reporting by Jessica Jones; Editing by Christina Fincher)