Decommissioned aircraft carrier languishes off Brazil as dispute with scrappers continues

The Brazilian Navy aircraft carrier NAe São Paulo underway, February 9, 2011 (Photo: Brazilian Navy)
The Brazilian Navy aircraft carrier NAe São Paulo underway, February 9, 2011 (Photo: Brazilian Navy)

A decommissioned aircraft carrier is once again under the ownership of the Brazilian Navy after the Turkish company that had earlier purchased the vessel for recycling relinquished its possession.

Ex-NAe São Paulo was originally slated to be scrapped in Aliaga following its arrival under tow in early September 2022.

The carrier and the tug towing it were denied entry by Turkish authorities after the country's Ministry of the Environment claimed that the ship's asbestos and hazardous material content levels were significantly greater than what the Brazilian government had reported prior to the sale.

The allegation by Turkey stems from the fact that São Paulo's only sister ship, the ex-French Navy aircraft carrier Clemenceau, contained at least 600 tonnes of asbestos at the time of its dismantling in 2009. Brazilian officials had estimated that only 9.6 tonnes of the cancerous material were on board São Paulo when it was sold.

The carrier was then forced to cross the Atlantic again and head back for Brazil. However, shortly after its arrival there in November, local ports have continually refused to allow it to enter their respective jurisdictions.

The convoy has reportedly been sailing in circles some 24 nautical miles offshore Pernambuco state in the northeast as the navy has prohibited its entry into Rio de Janeiro for docking.

The navy has also accused Turkish recycling company Sok Denizcilikve Tic of failing to practice due diligence that included surveying the carrier and acquiring proper P&I coverage.

A Brazilian lawyer familiar with the case told local news outlet UOL that the process regarding the sale of the carrier for scrapping had a number of irregularities. These included selling the ship for a price far below its estimated value and the issuance of an authorisation for export, which could not have been legally possible as the ship still had asbestos on board.

São Paulo had operated from 1963 to 2000 as Foch, one of only two Clemenceau-class carriers built for the French Navy. The ship was acquired by Brazil in 2000 to replace NAe Minas Gerais, an ex-Royal Navy Colossus-class light fleet carrier.

Despite having been in Brazilian service for 18 years, São Paulo reportedly spent a total of only 206 days at sea and was used primarily to train helicopter and tactical jet pilots for carrier operations. The ship also continually experienced maintenance problems even after the incorporation of numerous upgrades between 2005 and 2010.

One final modernisation programme had been planned for the carrier for 2017 but was ultimately abandoned due to cost concerns.

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