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Home / Brazil sinks aircraft carrier in Atlantic despite presence of asbestos and toxic materials

Brazil sinks aircraft carrier in Atlantic despite presence of asbestos and toxic materials

Posted on Feb 04, 2023

Brazil has sunk a decommissioned aircraft carrier despite environmental groups claiming the former French ship was packed with toxic materials.

The “planned and controlled sinking occurred late in the afternoon” on Friday, 350km off the Brazilian coast in the Atlantic Ocean, in an area with an approximate depth of 5,000 meters (16,000 feet), the navy said in a statement.

The decision to scuttle the six-decade-old São Paulo, announced Thursday, came after Brazilian authorities had tried in vain to find a port willing to welcome it.

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Though defence officials said they would sink the vessel in the “safest area”, environmentalists criticised the decision, saying the aircraft carrier contained tons of asbestos, heavy metals and other toxic materials that could leach into the water and pollute the marine food chain.

The Basel Action Network called on the Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – who vowed to reverse surging environmental destruction when he took office last month – to immediately halt the “dangerous” plan.

The group issued a joint statement with Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd on Friday, accusing Brazil of having violated “three international treaties” on the environment by sinking the ship, which the NGOs said could cause “incalculable” damage to marine life and coastal communities.

Other “environmentally responsible measures could have been adopted, but once again, the importance of protecting the oceans, which are vital for the life of the planet, was treated with negligence”, said Leandro Ramos, director of programs for Greenpeace Brazil.

Brazilian authorities insisted it was better to sink the ship on purpose rather than allow it to sink spontaneously on its own.

The navy said it had chosen a spot for sinking that considered “the security of navigation and the environment” and “the mitigation of the impacts on public health, fishing activities and ecosystems”.

A judge overruled a last-minute legal bid to stop the operation, saying that an “unplanned” scuttling could be even worse for the environment than the “controlled” sinking, local media reported.

He called the situation “tragic and regrettable”.

Built in the late 1950s in France – whose navy sailed it for 37 years as the Foch – the aircraft carrier took part in France’s first nuclear tests in the Pacific in the 1960s, and was deployed in Africa, the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia from the 1970s to 1990s.

Brazil bought the 266-metre aircraft carrier for $12m in 2000.

A fire broke out onboard in 2005, accelerating the ageing ship’s decline.

Last year, Brazil authorised Turkish firm Sok Denizcilik to dismantle the São 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 then brought the aircraft carrier back but did not allow it into port, citing the “high risk” to the environment.