For the first time, undercover film footage has exposed the brutal reality of animal cruelty aboard live export ships traveling from Australia to the Middle East. On each voyage, thousands of sheep suffer from starvation, poor ventilation, suffocation, illness and heat stress. Many of them are literally cooked to death in the summer heat. Their suffering is finally captured in damning footage released by Animals Australia.

The ethics of shipping animals across an ocean to be sold and slaughtered for meat are already dubious. However, the situation is particularly dire in the case of Australia’s live export industry, where a livestock mortality rate of up to 2% is legally permissible. Dozens to thousands of animals perish on every journey, forced into atrocious conditions under which they receive neither protection from the elements nor basic care. Despite the extreme number of deaths that occur on these ships, Australian regulators have failed to penalize live exporters for past instances.

On board these ships, sheep are treated as “cargo” rather than respected as living, breathing creatures. The severity of this neglect leaves the animals malnourished; they are vulnerable to illness, disease, and exposure to heat exhaustion. Within these poorly ventilated conditions, the sheep don’t even have space to lie down and rest away from their own waste. The alarming footage shows a pile of carcasses which are thrown carelessly overboard and disposed of as thoughtlessly as they were treated when alive.

The footage, filmed by trainee navigator Faisal Ullah and released through Animals Australia, exposes disgraceful living conditions and heartbreaking animal suffering. The Australian Standards for the Export of Livestock (ASEL) specifically ban the transport of lambs and pregnant ewes during the warmer months, but Ullah’s film footage clearly shows new-born lambs on the ships. The legislature also provides for access for fresh air, food and water. However, in terms of animal occupancy, the perilously cramped conditions are completely legal under Australian law.

Ullah’s footage covers five voyages, including the now-notorious Emanuel Exports consignment on the Awassi Express, where 2,400 sheepor 3.79% of the 63,804 on board – died of heat exposure. That mortality rate is nearly double the amount to mandate a federal investigation in Australia, which has temporarily halted the Awassi Express from further travel.

Dr Sue Foster, a former live expert veterinarian and spokeswoman for the Vets Against Live Export (VALE) has speculated that the standards of animal welfare are not only outdated but are unconcerned with reducing suffering for the animals.

After conducting a routine investigation into the conditions on board the ships, the department of VALE discovered that heat exposure was the main cause of death. Foster explained that heat stress is “unavoidable” on voyages to the Middle East in the summer under current regulations. “If we look at the footage … that ship is stocked according to Australian law. That is how every ship goes out of Fremantle.”

Despite feeling “shocked… to the core” after viewing the harrowing film footage taken on the Awassi, Agricultural minister David Littleproud will still allow the ship to continue sailing, provided they meet higher animal welfare standards.

Emanuel Exports will not leave port until it reduces its stock density by over 15%, improves access to food and water, increases ventilation and allows an observer on board to provide regular reports and up to date photos.

“So, the line in the sand has to be drawn now… and I’m committed to making sure we do that and put those sheep, if [they set sail] on Monday morning, in the safest possible hands,” said Littleproud.

After the Animals Australia footage aired on 60 Minutes, Emanuel Exports director Nicholas Daws announced that the company will reduce its loading numbers from 65,000 to 57,000 sheep, reducing livestock on board by 17.5%.

Despite admitting to the very “clear breaches of standards” in this case, the Australian Live Exporters Council has defended the industry’s overall conduct.

The awful truth of the live exports is that these animals are literally being cooked to death in the heat and struggling every day in the squalor of their living conditions. For the first time, these terrifying secrets of live export ships have been shared with the world and it is our job to speak out to save the lives of millions of innocent animals. To help shut down this immeasurable and unrelenting cruelty to animals, please visit Animals Australia and sign the petition now.