Brazilian Navy's former flagship, the French-built aircraft carrier Sao Paulo, is somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with no port to welcome her after being decommissioned. The old hull, full of asbestos, paint, and other toxic waste, has been anchored 315 kilometers off the Brazilian coast, to prevent drifting, but the possibility that it might sink has not been ruled out. It would be a major environmental disaster, it was reported.
The pride of the French Navy, the aircraft carrier Foch which became the Sao Paulo in 2000, is wandering at sea in search of a port. The Brazilian Navy said in a press release last week that, given its state of degradation and the high risk it represents to the environment, it will not authorize its return to Brazilian territorial waters.
The structure had been purchased in April 2021 to be scrapped by the Turkish shipyard Sok Denizcilik. But in the absence of a port to take it in, the Turkish company threatened to abandon it to its fate.
Environmental organizations warn of the risk that the old ship, built in the late 1950s in Saint-Nazaire, in western France, might end at the bottom of the ocean and fear a sinking operation by Brazilian authorities: The Brazilian Navy is ready to carry out a major environmental crime at sea, warns Jim Puckett, director of Basel Action Network (BAN), saying in a statement that the hull was to be sunk under a false excuse.
Environmental organizations are calling on Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva to take action. We call on President Lula, as commander-in-chief of the Brazilian Navy, to intervene immediately and give the order to bring the Sao Paulo back to Rio de Janeiro, the organization Shipbreaking Platform said.
If Brazil intentionally sinks the hull it would amount to a state-sponsored environmental crime, the organization added.
It is worrying to have a toxic package of 30,000 tons at sea, whose addressee we do not know, other environmentalist groups stressed
The ship had been bought by Brazil in 2000, but due to its obsolescence and a series of problems linked to an onboard fire in 2005, it was decided to decommission her.
In June 2022, Sok Denizcilik agreed to take the hull over to Türkiye for scrapping, but by the time it reached the Strait of Gibraltar in August last year, Turkish environmental authorities announced the structure had been banned from reaching its ports. Brazil then brought it back but kept it at sea off the port of Suape, in the state of Pernambuco, citing aggravation of the damage to the hull.
On January 19, the Dutch tugboat ALP Guard, took it further away from the Brazilian coast while a court decision banned it from sailing in international waters without prior authorization from Brasilia.
The saga of the former flagship of the French Navy, which took part in NATO air operations in Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999, during the Kosovo crisis, is reminiscent of that of her sister ship, the Clemenceau, which was scrapped in 2010 in Great Britain, after having been banned in India following a controversy over the presence of asbestos on board.