Navy sinks aircraft carrier with toxic substances after 6 months of uncertainty


Under criticism from environmentalists, the aircraft carrier São Paulo was sunk by the Navy late Friday afternoon (3) even with an offer of R$ 30 million from a Saudi group for the vessel and after a court approval.

The wreck occurred 350 kilometers off the Brazilian coast, in an area with a depth of 5,000 meters. Image captured by satellites and released by the NGO Greenpeace this Friday showed the vessel at the same distance from the coast of Pernambuco, almost in a straight line from Recife.

The vessel has almost ten tons of asbestos, and its sinking was the subject of discussions between ministers José Múcio Monteiro (Defense) and Marina Silva (Environment), who ended up defeated.

“The procedure was conducted with the necessary technical competence and safety by the Brazilian Navy, in order to avoid logistical, operational, environmental and economic damage to the Brazilian State”, said the Navy, in a note.

The operation took place after, this Friday, the Federal Regional Court of the 5th Region had denied an appeal by the Federal Public Ministry and maintained the decision of the first instance of the Federal Court in Pernambuco that rejected a request to prevent the hull of the aircraft carrier São Paulo from being discarded in Brazilian waters.

The Navy’s decision provoked reactions because of the contamination generated from the sinking. In addition to the amount of asbestos remaining on the vessel in structural parts, which could not be removed, consultants estimate that there are about 200 tons of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), compounds used as fluids in cables and other components.

According to Ibama (Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Natural and Renewable Resources), some of the expected impacts are disturbances in the filtering capacity and difficulty in the growth of aquatic organisms and the release of CFCs and HCFCs gases (which degrade the ozone layer and act on the global warming). In addition, the physical impact on the sea floor would cause the death of species, the deterioration of ecosystems and the carcass could attract invasive species.

The Navy decided to discard the hull on the Brazilian coast even after a Saudi group offered BRL 30 million for the equipment. The proposal was made last Monday (30), after the Sheet reveal that the Navy planned to sink the vessel in view of the advanced degree of degradation of the old airfield.

The aircraft carrier was sold in 2021 by the Navy to a Turkish shipyard specializing in ship dismantling. The vehicle left Brazil on August 4 last year, on a trip that generated protests around the world and was monitored in real time by Greenpeace.

The Navy says that, after the decision to demobilize the aircraft carrier, it opted to sell the hull for “green dismantling”, a safe recycling process for which the Turkish shipyard Sök is accredited and certified.

But, in the face of complaints about the illegal export of asbestos, the Turkish government revoked authorization for the vessel to enter on August 26, when the ship was approaching the Strait of Gilbraltar, on a trip made with the help of a tugboat.

Analyzes carried out by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform on a twin aircraft carrier to São Paulo identified 760 tons of asbestos on the vessel. In view of this, the organization began to question whether, in fact, the hull sent by Brazil would have the 10 tons of toxic substance as foreseen in the inventory.

Ibama (Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) suspended the export license and ordered the ship to return to Brazil.

The aircraft carrier, however, was prevented by judicial decisions from docking in Rio de Janeiro and Pernambuco, and was anchored about 46 kilometers off the coast of Pernambuco, under protests from the maritime agent MSK, a partner of the Turkish shipyard Sök Denizcilik and Ticaret on purchase.

Since then, it has been towed away by two Navy vessels, the frigate União and the maritime support vessel Purus, and has been sailing through the region.

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