Brazilian Navy’s retired aircraft carrier Sao Paulo on its way to scrapyard

Brazilian Navy’s aircraft carrier Sao Paulo, formerly known as French warship Foch, has been placed under tow on an about 6000-mile journey to Aliaga, Turkiye, where it is to be scrapped.

Instituto São Paulo | Foch

In 2000, the French Navy sold the Clemenceau-class aircraft carrier Sao Paulo to Brazil.

Photo: Instituto São Paulo | Foch

Commissioned back in 1963 by the French Navy as Foch, the aircraft carrier was acquired by the Brazilian Navy in 2000 and became its new flagship. After numerous serviceability issues, it was officially disabled in January 2017.

Given that France was the original owner of the ship, the contractual clause in the sale of the Foch gives France the last say on where the aircraft carrier can be dismantled. Therefore, ship recycling yards allowed to participate in the bidding had to be approved by the French authorities.

The vessel contains large amounts of hazardous substances such as asbestos, PCBs, and toxic paints within its structure, qualifying it under international law as hazardous waste and thus subject to special trade controls.

Furthermore, the ship was  involved with atmospheric nuclear bomb testing in the Pacific. The presence of 170 tonnes of lead/cadmium paint, which could shield radioactive contamination, and the lack of information on prior removal of radioactive equipment have raised concerns that the vessel is contaminated despite claims to the contrary.

France sent an official response to Brazil, indicating that only yards included in the EU list of approved ship recycling facilities were qualified to receive and scrap the vessel, according to NGO Shipbreaking Platform.

The Brazilian Navy decided to scrap the vessel, and it was auctioned off to a Turkish shipbreaking yard, Sök Denizcilik and Ticaret Limited.

However, according to environmental organisations, the movement of the SÃO PAULO from Brazil to Turkiye is also illegal, as it violates the 1996 Izmir Protocol (Protocol on the Prevention of Pollution of the Mediterranean Sea by Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal) of the Barcelona Convention, which does not allow hazardous wastes to enter the Mediterranean Sea unless they are to be destined to an EU country for recycling or disposal. 

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform, Basel Action Network (BAN), BAN Asbestos France, Henri Pézerat Association (Work, Health, Environment), International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), İstanbul Isig Meclisi, Brazilian ABREA and Greenpeace Mediterranean have called upon President Macron to take responsibility for the ship and direct it to safe and legal recycling or reuse, as France did with the sister carrier the Clemenceau in 2006.

At that time, France exported the vessel to India, only to admit that the export was illegal under the EU Waste Shipment Regulation. Consequently, President Jacques Chirac ordered its return to France.  

The NGOs also alerted the Turkish Ministry of Environment and Urbanization and the Brazilian Basel Convention Competent Authority (IBAMA) about the legal, environmental, and health risks linked to breaking the vessel in Turkiye. 

To remind, in June 2018, the Sao Paulo / Foch Institute, a not-for-profit association, was created with the aim of preventing the destruction of the warship and transforming it into a naval museum, which would be an eco-friendly alternative.

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