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September 2, 2022

Decommissioned carrier stuck in limbo after Turkey bans vessel

There are concerns over the toxic components of the Brazilian aircraft carrier Nae São Paulo with regards to asbestos.

By Jasleen Mann

A decommissioned aircraft carrier from the Brazilian Navy currently being towed towards is supposed final destination in Turkey is stuck in limbo after Turkish authorities banned it from entering its waters.

The vessel, the former aircraft carrier Sao Paolo, along with its tug, the Alp Centre, is currently holding position northeast of the Canary Islands off the West Africa coast after setting off from Brazil earlier in the month. Controversy had stalked the Sao Paulo after its departure amid fears that it could be filled with asbestos and other dangerous materials.

Nearby Gibraltar had earlier closed its waters to the vessel, with a spokesperson informing Ship Technology that the government was “aware” of the possible transit from Sao Paulo through the Strait of Gibraltar to Turkey.

“Unless a vessel (or its tug) schedules a call at the Gibraltar Port, the Gibraltar Port Authority is unable to prevent its transit through the Strait. The vessel will not be permitted to enter British Gibraltar Territorial Waters,” the spokesperson said.

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform and the Basel Action Network argue that the Basel Convention should be enforced in order to prevent the aircraft carrier from travelling through territorial waters.

Originally referred to as the Foch when in service with the French Navy, the carrier was travelling to a Turkish shipyard so that it could be dismantled.

Turkish authorities had queried the Brazilian documentation while replacement permits, which were expected to be presented, had not been provided.

The current route that Sao Paolo and Alp Centre is taking would result in a transitthrough the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean to Turkey, breaching the Basel Convention. Requests by the Brazilian court to detain the ship in Brazil were unsuccessful.

However, on 2 September it emerged that Turkey had banned the toxic aircraft carrier from entering its national waters. The carrier’s journey was criticised by local environmental and labour rights groups, supported by international NGOs due to a lack of compliance with the Basel and Barcelona Conventions.

Gokhan Ersoy, project development officer at Greenpeace Mediterranean, in a statement: “From a marvellous public march with the participation of thousands of people in Aliağa to theatrical demonstrations in the centre of İzmir and public statements in front of official buildings, all people came together around one single demand: to stop this toxic ship!

“Digital and conventional signature petitions reached more than 150.000 people within a month! The will and never-ending commitment of people forced policy makers to reconsider the mistake they had made.”

Due to environmental concerns many have objected to the travel of the aircraft carrier. Greenpeace also wrote to UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Minister Steve Double in support of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform and the Basel Action Network.

When contacted a DEFRA spokesperson said that any transit through Gibraltarian waters was a matter for the Gibraltar Government.

Concerns were raised relating to the toxic components of the ship as its sister vessel, the Clemenceau, contained hundreds of tons of asbestos and PCBs. Due to the amount of toxic material on the Clemenceau, in 2006 the ship was re-routed from a breakers yard in India to Graythorp yard near Hartlepool.

According to the inventory of the Nae São Paulo, the ship does not have PCBs on board but has 9.6 tons of asbestos.

Megan Corton Scott, political campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “Our shared oceans, like our atmosphere, need collective international action to be properly protected.

“We have agreed international legal instruments like the Basel Convention to regulate risks like this, but it requires nation states to do their legal duty and enforce the convention. That’s all we’re asking the Minister to do – make sure DEFRA complies with its legal duties under the Basel Convention.”

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