Fears for sheep as ferry returns to Ramsgate in poor weather
Hundreds of sheep being exported from Kent have had a longer than planned journey because a ferry in the Channel had to turn round due to bad weather.
The Joline, with about 700 sheep on board, returned to the port of Ramsgate in strong winds and rain on Wednesday.
The animals were taken off in two lorries, watched by angry protesters who had earlier warned the ferry should not sail in the predicted poor weather.
The RSPCA condemned the decision to sail amid concern for the animals.
It said it had been denied permission to check the animals on their return to Ramsgate, although government inspectors had been allowed to.
The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency said it had inspected the sheep and had found no welfare issues.
RSPCA Ch Insp Steve Dockery said: "It just beggars belief that they're allowed to sail in this.
"What's even more frustrating is not actually being allowed to do a proper inspection of the livestock."
Spokeswoman Klare Kennett added: "The sheep are usually packed in very tightly, so they're going to be pushed together - quite often they get pushed together so tightly that some of them are actually pushed up in the air almost like a rugby scrum.
"So they're going to be squashed in... one sheep at least was already lame, we're aware."
The ferry set sail for Calais from Ramsgate at about 11:00 GMT, with the captain taking the decision to turn back at about 14:30 GMT.
As the lorries transporting the sheep headed out of the port back to the farms where they came from, about 20 protesters shouted: "Shame on you."
Protester Reg Bell, from Thanet Against Live Exports, said: "As far as we know nothing was done to stop the ship from sailing.
"This weather was entirely predictable - it was forecast - and the idea of a ship sailing in this weather is obscene."
Frank Langrish, of the National Farmers' Union, rejected criticism that the hauliers had not considered the welfare of the animals.
He said: "Nothing can be further from the truth. Every animal is inspected before it goes on those lorries.
"It's the captain's discretion of the ship whether he sails or not.
"The conditions, obviously he decided, weren't good enough so he returned to port, and the animals will go back."
Half of the sheep were understood to have come from a local farm, while the origin of the others was not known.