Brazil has sunk a decommissioned aircraft carrier in the Atlantic Ocean despite concerns expressed by environmental groups that the ageing warship was packed with toxic materials.
The “planned and controlled sinking occurred late in the afternoon” on Friday, some 350 km (220 miles) off the Brazilian coast in the Atlantic Ocean, in an area with an “approximate depth of 5,000 meters [16,000 feet]”, Brazil’s Navy said in a statement.
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The decision to scuttle the six-decade-old aircraft carrier “Sao Paulo” came after Brazilian authorities had tried in vain to find a port willing to welcome the vessel.
Though defence officials said they would sink the vessel in the “safest area”, environmentalists attacked the decision, saying the warship contained tonnes of asbestos, heavy metals and other toxic materials that could leach into the water and pollute the marine food chain.
The Basel Action Network had called on newly-elected Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva -who took office last month pledging to reverse surging environmental destruction under far-right ex-President Jair Bolsonaro – to immediately halt the “dangerous” plan to scuttle the ship.
The NGO Shipbreaking Platform – a coalition of environmental, labour and human rights organisations – had described Brazil’s planned sinking of the Sao Paulo as potentially a “state-sponsored environmental crime”.
Intentionally sinking the toxic aircraft carrier São Paulo would equate to a state-sponsored environmental crime. https://t.co/efiH9KLVSI
— NGO Shipbreaking Platform (@NGOShipbreaking) January 21, 2023
Built in the late 1950s in France, whose navy sailed the aircraft carrier for 37 years as the Foch, the warship had earned a place in 20th-century naval history. The Sao Paulo took part in France’s first nuclear tests in the Pacific in the 1960s and saw deployments in Africa, the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia from the 1970s to 1990s.
Brazil bought the 266-metre (873ft) aircraft carrier for $12 million in 2000. A fire that broke out on board the ship in 2005 accelerated the vessel’s decline.
Last year, Brazil authorised Turkish firm Sok Denizcilik to dismantle the Sao Paulo for scrap metal. But in August, just as a tugboat was about to tow it into the Mediterranean Sea, Turkish environmental authorities blocked the plan.
Brazil’s defence ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that the dismantling plan for the ship “represented an unprecedented attempt” by Brazil to safely dispose of the ship through “environmentally sound recycling”.
Brazil then brought the aircraft carrier back home but did not allow it into port, citing the “high risk” to the environment.
According to the defence ministry statement, the area selected for the sinking was identified by the Navy’s Hydrography Centre, which considered it the “safest” location as it was outside Brazil’s exclusive economic zone, environmental protection areas, free from documented submarine cable and was at a depth greater than 3,000 metres (9,840ft).
“In view of the facts presented and the increasing risk involved in towing, 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 of the planned and controlled sinking,” the ministry said.