Brazil Proceeds with Sinking Aircraft Carrier Despite Protests
The Brazilian Navy confirmed that it plans to move forward with a controlled sinking of the decommissioned aircraft carrier NAe São Paulo in Brazilian waters. While they will not disclose the exact timing or location it is expected that they will move forward expeditiously after warning that the vessel was at severe risk of losing stability and buoyancy and after clearing a last-minute hurdle when a court refused a possible injunction to halt the sinking. All of this is happening as a war of words is also taking place between the Turkish scrappers and the Brazilian authorities.
The Navy issued an official joint statement with the country’s Attorney General and Ministry of Defense saying that due to the severe degradation of the hull that repairs would be impossible and that the sinking is inevitable. Their efforts the Navy insists are to prevent an uncontrolled sinking of the country’s former flagship which was decommissioned in 2018.
The position for the sinking was selected because it remains within the Exclusive Economic Zone of Brazil but is outside any environmentally protected areas and is free from documented submarine cables and will not interfere with projects such as wind farms. The Navy previously moved the hulk to a position more than 215 miles off the coast where the ocean depth is more than 16,400 feet.
“In view of the facts presented and the growing risk involved in the towing task, due to the deterioration of the hull's buoyancy conditions and the inevitability of spontaneous/uncontrolled sinking, it is not possible to adopt any other course of action other than jettisoning the hull, through the planned and controlled sinking,” they wrote in the joint statement.
Brazil’s Environment Minister Marina Silva requested that the Navy consider other plans while the Brazilian Institute of the Environment (Ibama) has written of the risk of serious environmental damage. They have advocated for the vessel to be docked and repaired as well as to address the concerns about pollutants aboard so that the original plan for green recycling could proceed.
(Video from November 2022 showing the condition of the tow off the coast of Brazil)
Believing that the sinking was imminent, possibly on February 1, the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) and Public Prosecutor’s office from the state of Pernambuco went to court yesterday asking for an injunction. The court however denied the plausibility of issuing the injunction. The groups were reportedly analyzing whether an appeal was possible.
The Navy in its statement sought to place blame on Turkey and the scrappers saying it had attempted to do the right thing by arranging for green recycling. They contended that Turkey “unilaterally withdrew consent” after the vessel had been in transit for 22 days. They said after conducting the tender and sale, the vessel had become the responsibility of the Turkish buyer. Furthermore, they contend that the NAe São Paulo remains the responsibility of Sok Denizcilik which purchased the hulk in 2021, even though the Navy assumed control of the vessel on January 20, 2023.
“Faced with the owner's inertia in meeting the requirements determined by the AMB (the Brazilian Maritime Authority) and the imminent possibility of abandoning the hull at sea,” the Navy says a new survey was undertaken in January that showed the rapid decay of the hull with the increased intrusion of water and 21 of the vessel’s compartments are compromised. They contend the Turkish companies failed to secure a port and repair contract when the vessel arrived back in Brazil and let the P&I insurance lapse.
Sok responded in a statement blaming the Brazilians and saying it acted responsibly and has a long history of green recycling. They contend that all the ports and shipyards capable of receiving the vessel were even offered full payment in advance but refused the ship, including the Brazilian Navy. They note that the former carrier was towed in circles off the Brazilian coast for 100 days. On January 6, 2023, the insurance company declined to renew the policy due to the uncertainty of the situation according to Sok.
Environmentalists have argued that the carrier which was built by the French in the late 1950s as the Foch, sister ship to the Clemenceau, is heavily contaminated with asbestos, PCBs, and other possible pollutants. They protested the sinking as a violation of international treaties but barring any last-minute delays the Navy is expected to proceed as early as today to sink the NAe São Paulo bringing to a close the situation that began in August 2022 when the vessel was towed out of Rio de Janeiro.