French movie icon Brigitte Bardot is the latest to express outrage over the plight of the 57,000 sheep, left in the lurch in the high seas.

The sheep left Australia on 5 August, but were rejected by Saudi Arabia three weeks later on the grounds that 6% had the scabby mouth disease.

With no port willing to accept the ailing animals, the ship has been in limbo and the sheep have no place to go.

Almost 4000 of them have already died from heat stress and the Dutch-owned vessel, Cormo Express has gained notoriety as the "ship of death".

Bardot letter

A dismayed Bardot in an open letter to the Australian Agriculture Minister Warren Truss described the situation as sickening and unbearable.

"It is absolutely necessary to find a humane solution in order to avoid the agony of 50,000 sheep on the Cormo Express, which will remain the disgrace of your country," she said.

At the receiving end of global flak, the Australian government says it is in negotiations to offload the sheep somewhere in the Middle East.

With no port willing to accept the ailing animals, the ship has been in limbo and the sheep have no place to go.

But its efforts so far have failed and the sheep continue to suffer.

Canberra is at the same time seeking to absolve itself of any responsibility.

A government spokesman insisted Australia no longer owned the sheep, they belong to a Saudi importer and Australia was merely trying to find a place for them to land.

Cash reward

Animal rights activisits are outraged and one particular group, Animal Liberation, has announced a cash reward for information on the exact location of the Cormo Express.

They say if the sheep cannot be landed in the Middle East, they should be humanely put down.

The ship's owner says the animal cargo should be returned to their port of origin. But Australia says it would not accept them since the sheep, having docked in an overseas port, have now become "foreign animals".

"The whole debacle goes from one farce to the next," said Australian Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett.