Australia’s Department of Agriculture has suspended the licence of an unnamed live sheep exporter, it has said in a statement.

The company is understood to be Emanuel Exports, Australia’s largest live sheep exporter.

According to the department, the licence would remain suspended pending a full review of the company’s response to a show cause notice.

“The laws that regulate the export of livestock include strict requirements to ensure the health and welfare of animals. It is the responsibility of each exporter to ensure it meets those obligations,” the statement said.

The department added that it was “inappropriate” to provide further information while the investigation was ongoing.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation immediately identified the company as Emanuel Exports.

“The department sent a show-cause notice to Emanuel Exports last month, and it is understood the company responded with a 30-page statement,” the broadcaster said.

A horror voyage on an Emanuel ship last year saw 2 400 sheep die of thirst and heat, some even baking to death. Photographs of the sheep sparked national outrage and led to a government inquiry into the export trade.

In the wake of the scandal, the Western Australian State Department of Agriculture executed a search warrant on the Perth headquarters of Emanuel Exports.

Emanuel Exports said in a statement that it would cooperate fully with the department in its review.

RSPCA Australia called the suspension another step toward the inevitable end of cruel, long-haul live sheep exports.

“We’ve long said that if the laws were enforced, live export would become impossible. This is evidence of that,” senior policy officer Jed Goodfellow said.

The Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council told the ABC that it was still absorbing the announcement and its implications for the industry worth A$250-million (R2,5 billion) a year.

Emanuel Exports’ director Nicholas Daws said the company would cooperate with any valid warrant but that it did not believe the state government had a legal basis to investigate live export as the trade fell under federal law.

Ahmed Gosheh, the chief executive of Livestock Shipping Services, Australia’s second-largest live exporter, told the West Australian newspaper that his company would not carry sheep from Australia to the Middle East during the northern summer due to the new 30% cut in legal stocking density. Gosheh said the reduction would have raised costs by A$35 (R350) a sheep.

The company said that it was redirecting its ships to South America while it reviewed the commercial viability of operations in Australia.

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