Fri, 24 Mar 2023

Brazil's Navy has sunk a decommissioned 1960's aircraft carrier that had been floating offshore for three months, despite environmental groups claiming the ship was packed with asbestos and other toxic materials.

The "planned and controlled sinking" took place on Friday some 350 kms off the Brazilian coast in the Atlantic Ocean, in an area with an "approximate depth of 5,000 metres," the Brazilian Navy said in a statement.

The decision to scuttle the 32,000-tonne "Sao Paulo", announced Thursday, came after Brazilian authorities had tried in vain to find a port willing to welcome it.

Environmentalists say the ship is carrying tonnes of toxic waste, with French environmental group Robin des Bois describing it as a "30,000-tonne toxic package".

Brazil's Environment Minister Marine Silva requested the Navy not to sink it, but the latter said it had no choice since the ship was taking on water.

"Given its deteriorating floating condition and the inevitability of uncontrolled sinking, there is no other option but to jettison the hull and sink it in a planned way," it said.

The Foch's decline

The aircraft carrier was built in France in the late 1950s and served the French Navy from 1963 to 2000 as the Foch.

It earned a place in 20th-century naval history - taking part in France's first nuclear tests in the Pacific in the 1960s, and deployments in Africa, the Middle East and former Yugoslavia from the 1970s to 1990s.

France sold the Foch to Brazil in 2000 for just $12 million, but it needed an $80 million refit that was never done.

A fire on board in 2005 accelerated the ship's decline.

Last year, Brazil authorised Turkish firm Sok Denizcilik to dismantle the rusting ship for scrap metal.

But in August, just as it was about to be towed 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.

'Tragic and regrettable'

Federal public prosecutors and environmental non-profit Greenpeace had asked the Brazilian government to stop the sinking, saying it was "toxic" due to dangerous materials, including 9 tonnes of asbestos used in panelling.

But on Wednesday a federal judge denied their request arguing that an unplanned sinking could be even worse for the environment or pose a danger to crews, the G1 news outlet reported.

The judge nonetheless called the situation "tragic and regrettable," according to G1.

The Basel Action Network had called on Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva - who has vowed to undo the environmental degradation carried out under his predecessor - to immediately halt the "dangerous" plan.

On Friday it issued a joint statement with Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd, accusing Brazil of having violated "three international treaties" on the environment by sinking the ship.

The NGOs said it could cause "incalculable" damage to marine life and coastal communities.

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

Originally published on RFI

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