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Australian sheep bound for the Middle East 'cooked alive in harrowing and deadly conditions' on live export ships

'Millions of animals have died horrifically on these ships but it is the survivors who suffer worst of all'

Jane Dalton
Monday 09 April 2018 21:32 BST
Sheep forced into dire conditions aboard transit ship to Middle East

Hundreds of sheep have been filmed being slowly “cooked alive”, covered in waste and desperately gasping for air and water in extreme heat in new footage that has horrified Australia.

The “harrowing” video revealed by Animals Australia, was taken by a whistleblower on board one of the many ships that export animals live to the Middle East every year in “illegal” conditions.

The Australian government announced a review of the regulator and a crackdown on illegal practices – but faced calls to ban the trade altogether after the expose prompted widespread anger.

The footage shows hundreds of sheep packed onto cargo decks so tightly that they cannot move or lie down; many dying en route of thirst and heat exhaustion; most covered in faeces; some forced to walk over bodies of those that have already died.

Some appear to be in obvious distress, panting rapidly, while others are too weak to get up.

At one point, someone empties a sack of sheep corpses overboard into the sea.

The conditions are so bad they are illegal, according to Animals Australia.

When the footage was broadcast on Australian television, it prompted outrage and renewed calls for a ban on live exports, as well as for those in charge of the cargoes to be prosecuted.

Spontaneous protests were staged outside the Perth headquarters of the exporting company, condemning the “ships of shame”.

Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie branded the findings “beyond shocking”. “Frankly the whole lot of them [the government] are complicit. The trade must be banned and the monsters responsible sent to jail,” he said.

Tanya Plibersek, deputy opposition leader, tweeted: "This is a national disgrace."

The animal-welfare charity said the "harrowing" video was a world first – the first time conditions on board everyday live export ships to the Middle East had been filmed at length by a crew member.

He took footage from five voyages last summer on board the Awassi Express, which sailed during the Middle Eastern summer for Eid the annual Muslim festival of sacrifice.

As the ship lists and sways during the journeys, which last up to three weeks, sheep are seen struggling as they are crushed against one another, unable to reach water points. Nearly all are thin and covered in filth.

About 2,400 sheep, more than 3 per cent of those carried, died during the journey, above the rate of 2 per cent at which deaths become reportable by law.

Following the uproar, federal agriculture Minister David Littleproud announced a review of the power of the independent regulator – his own department; a new hotline to allow whistleblowers to anonymously provide information and plans to increase penalties for wrongdoers.

He said he was “shocked and deeply disturbed” by the footage.

Animals Australia said a typical live-export voyage “quickly becomes the perfect storm for death and suffering”.

“Over the years more than three million Australian animals have died, often horrifically, on these death ships. But evidence now shows it is the ‘survivors’ who suffer worst of all.”

The group said the Australian government must stop granting export licences under such conditions.

The head of Emanuel Exports, the company involved in the shipment that was filmed, reportedly apologised.

Australia’s Farm Online website reported that Director Nicholas Daws said: “The footage televised by 60 Minutes is simply devastating and Emanuel Exports apologises to farmers and the broader community for these absolutely unacceptable outcomes.

“Animal welfare failures resulting in high mortalities, like the footage we’ve seen from the August 2017 Awassi Express shipment in which 2,400 sheep died, are heartbreaking for our company and the producers whose livestock we export.”

Farm Online reported that Mr Daws said that since that shipment, Emanuel Exports had consulted closely with government-accredited vets and crew who worked on livestock vessels to the Arabian Gulf, to gain first-hand insights.

He said the company had taken steps to prevent the “extraordinary circumstances” recurring.

They had also consulted the Federal Department of Agriculture, the industry regulator, to help secure better animal welfare in future voyages, he said.

Australia's live exports industry is worth $2bn a year, according to the country's Live Exporters' Council.

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