Türkiye requests new survey of Brazilian Navy’s retired aircraft carrier before import

Following alerts from numerous organisations, Türkiye is requiring a new inventory of hazardous materials (IHM) to be conducted prior to the export of the Brazilian Navy’s aircraft carrier Sao Paulo to Aliaga, where it is to be scrapped.

Courtesy of NGO Shipbreaking Platform

On August 9, Turkish authority Eyüp Karahan, general director of Environmental Management, sent a letter to the Brazilian Basel Convention Competent Authority (IBAMA) asking for a new IHM to be conducted:

“… As a result of the Supreme Court’s interim injunction, news in the press, and the hazardous materials notices made to our Ministry, it has emerged that a new Inventory of Hazardous Materials for the ex-naval vessel in question should be prepared while the vessel is in Brazilian territorial waters before it comes to our country.

Claiming for weeks that the export of the ship from Brazil to Turkey is illegal under the Basel and Barcelona Conventions and that the current IHM is not credible, environmental, and labour rights groups working on this matter in Turkey, Brazil, and internationally praised the Turkish action.

“Turkey is to be applauded for asking for a true and accurate survey and inventory”, said Nicola Mulinaris of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform. “The current one is simply not believable based on what we know about older aircraft carriers.  We have real concerns that the provided inventory grossly underestimates the hazardous and radioactive materials on board the Sao Paulo.”

Grieg Green, the survey company that issued the IHM for Turkish shipbreaking yard, Sök Denizcilik and Ticaret Limited, the buyer for the warship, admitted that it did not have access to the IHM prepared by the Brazilian Navy. The company also:

  • admitted they had access to only 12% of the ship;
  • concluded there were no radioactive materials onboard;
  • did not compare with the IHM issued by Bureau Veritas for the vessel’s sister ship Clemenceau;
  • did not adequately test (only six samples) Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) concluding there were none;
  • concluded that there might be more asbestos onboard the aircraft carrier than the estimated nine tons; and  
  • recommended further sampling during dismantling operations. 

IBAMA has responded to the Turkish request by saying the ship had already left Brazil so therefore it was not possible to fulfil the request of conducting a new inventory in Brazilian territorial waters.

At the beginning of the month, Naval Today reported that the ship had been towed out to sea.

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Instead of following the towage plan which projected it sailing along the Brazilian coast, the tow train made an easterly heading to leave Brazilian territory as rapidly as possible, NGO Shipbreaking Platform said.

Despite the federal injunction which is now considered out of force and the new demand for a new IHM by Türkiye, neither IBAMA, the Brazilian Navy, nor Sök have made any move to turn the ship back to Brazil.

It is currently moving at its top speed just off the coast of Mauritania and is just a few days away from the Strait of Gibraltar. Meanwhile, neither Spain, the UK nor Morocco have been notified or given consent for it to pass through their waters at Gibraltar as is required by the Basel Convention.

Meanwhile, IBAMA did write to the exporting company working with Sök, known as Oceans Prime Offshore Agenciamento Maritimo Ltda., to remind them that it is within the rights of the importing country to amend their import consent with new conditions. They suggested that a new IHM may be required “upon arrival” and would need to be paid for by Sök. However, doing the job in Türkiye instead of Brazil is likely to be illegal.

“Under no circumstances should Türkiye agree that the new survey be conducted in Türkiye or any other country other than Brazil,” says Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network. “Under the Basel Convention, a proper inventory of hazardous materials can only be conducted prior to export.

“The rush by the Brazilian government to get out to sea without checking to see if Türkiye has laws against such import, to alert transit countries, and before a court injunction can be properly served, is not an excuse for Türkiye to ever allow this ship into our territory”, Asli Odman of the Istanbul Health and Safety Labour Watch agreed. “It must go back now. It should not even be allowed to pass into the Mediterranean Sea.”

To remind, 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 2017 and auctioned off to the Turkish shipbreaking yard for scraping.

The vessel is believed to contain 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.