A ship carrying 19,000 cattle caused a big stink in the South African city of Cape Town

Authorities in Cape Town launched an investigation Monday after a foul stench swept over the South African city.

City officials inspected sewage facilities for leaks and an environmental health team was activated before the source of the smell was discovered: a ship docked in the harbor carrying 19,000 live cattle from Brazil to Iraq.

Zahid Badroodien, the official in the mayor’s office in charge of water and sanitation, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that investigators had confirmed that the source of the “sewage smell blanketing parts of the city” was the cattle ship.

The ship was expected to leave Cape Town on Tuesday night, likely to the relief of residents who had an unpleasant start to their working week.

But the boat also became a target of serious criticism by animal welfare groups.

South Africa’s National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals sent a veterinary consultant onboard the ship to assess the welfare of the animals, it said, and found dead, diseased and injured cattle. Eight cows were humanely euthanized, the council said. It didn’t say how many cattle were found dead.

The SPCA council said it was strongly opposed to the export of live animals by sea and called the conditions on the ship “abhorrent” because of a buildup of cattle urine and feces during the journey. The animals had no option but to lie in their own excrement, it said.

“This smell is indicative of the awful conditions the animals endure, having already spent 2½ weeks onboard, with a buildup of feces and ammonia,” the council said in a statement. “The stench onboard is unimaginable, yet the animals face this every single day.”

In an update on the situation on Tuesday, the organization added “this incident serves as a stark reminder that the live export of animals by sea is a gruesome and outdated practice that inflicts unnecessary suffering on sentient beings.”

The 190-meter long (623 foot) Al Kuwait is a Kuwaiti-flagged livestock vessel, according to the Marine Traffic website. It docked in Cape Town to load feed for the cattle, the SPCA council said.

South Africa’s Democratic Alliance political party, which governs Cape Town, also condemned the transport of live cattle.

“Live export, as evidenced by this situation, exposes animals to perilous conditions such as dangerous levels of ammonia, rough seas, extreme heat stress, injuries, dirty environments, exhaustion, and even death,” the party said in a statement.

Earlier this month, a ship carrying more than 16,000 cattle and sheep also bound for the Middle East returned to Australia after becoming stranded at sea for nearly a month due to the attacks by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea. That ship also came under scrutiny for cruelty but veterinarians found no significant health and welfare issues among the livestock.