The Australian Government has launched an investigation into one of country’s biggest sheep exporters following a graphic footage of distressed and dying animals’ on-board a Middle East-bound ship.

Emanuel Exports, based in Perth, has been issued a ‘show cause’ notice to justify its export licence.

Australian Agricultural Minister David Littleproud, who announced the investigation, said that around 2,400 sheep died as a result of heat stress while travelling from Perth to three different Middle Eastern nations in August 2017. Littleproud said he was ‘shocked and gutted’ after activists group Animals Australia presented him with footage from the voyage, describing the conditions on board as ‘bullshit’.

The Department of Agriculture spokeswoman said there were allegations of overstocking, failing to have sufficient food and water available, animal injury and illness not being treated, and accredited vets and stockmen leaving vessels prior to unloading.

The dead animals on the vessel comprised 3.76% of the 63,800 sheep on board, twice the amount that requires formal investigation.

Littleproud said: “This cannot go on, we saw sheep that basically died from a heat event that were left and decayed, that were unable to get to water and food, and it disturbs me greatly that this has happened.”

The minister has threatened to block the departure of another vessel carrying 65,000 sheep pending the investigation.

The Department of Agriculture is also considering revising heat management plans for sheep exported to the Middle East during the hottest months.

Emanuel Exports has said it has ‘taken steps over more than six months to address the issues arising from our own extensive review of the voyage’.

According to Western Australia Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan, the investigation was ‘a long overdue exercise of responsibility’ by the federal government.

She said: “They have for so long allowed bad conduct in the industry to go unpunished.”

MacTiernan argued that it was unacceptable for the government to hide behind commercial confidentiality and has called on the Turnbull government to release export licence documents, which will help the state Labour government to pursue legal action against the sheep exporter.

In the summer of 2016, more than 3,000 sheep on board Emanuel Exports vessels died in similar circumstance travelling from Australia to Doha, Qatar.