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2,900 cattle ready for export to Libya

Exporters have begun assembling 2,900 cattle for the first boat destined for Libya in three weeks.

All breeds except Friesians are being sought at liveweights of 250-360kg, according to David Hunter of Murphy Hunter International Livestock in Cork.

They are part of the partnership between Murphy Hunter and the Athlone-based Quinns International Livestock, operated by Damien and Kevin Quinn.

"The pricing will be flexible, depending on whether the farmer is delivering them direct to the port when loading begins or selling them to us ex-farm," said Mr Hunter.

Loading is expected to take 48 hours when the boat docks at Waterford harbour sometime between February 15-20.

The boat, which has undergone major refurbishment to meet Irish standards, was inspected by Department of Agriculture officials while it was docked in Istanbul, Turkey, last week.

Minister Coveney has repeatedly stressed the importance of any live-shipping venture adhering to the highest animal welfare standards.

"It's no joke crossing the Bay of Biscay in January and the last thing I want is reports of cattle breaking legs on their journey to wherever," Mr Coveney said recently.

The supplier of both the boat, the Al Mahmoud Express, and the financing behind this deal is a Syrian company called Al Mahmoud. Directors from the company visited Irish farms earlier this year to discuss animal specifications and payment terms.

"I am 100pc confident that the payments surrounding this deal are secure and we expect to be able to pay farmers for their cattle within 24 hours of loading," said Mr Hunter.

When loaded, the boat will make the 10-day trip to Tripoli in Libya. It will be early April before it returns to Waterford, at which point Mr Hunter hopes it will operate full-time on a three-week shipping route between North Africa and Ireland.

If the route became established, it would provide an outlet for 40,000-50,000 head of the extra 150,000 cattle that are predicted to come on-stream in Ireland later this year.

Mr Hunter, whose firm already export cattle to Morocco, said that there was also a possibility of Friesian type animals being included in future shipments.

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