Brazil's largest aircraft carrier is prevented from leaving the country by the courts, but GPS shows imminent departure from national territoryBrazil's largest aircraft carrier is prevented from leaving the country by the courts, but GPS shows imminent departure from national territory

The NAe São Paulo (A-12) is a Clemenceau-class aircraft carrier, which was in service with the Brazilian Navy between 2000 and 2014, and was decommissioned in 2020 – Rob Schleiffert – 23.dec.13/Wikimedia

Saudi group offers R$30 million for hull of aircraft carrier, and the Navy postpones sinking

Sinking was expected to occur on Thursday (1); lawyer says he has not yet received a response on negotiation

The business group Sela, from Saudi Arabia, contacted the Brazilian Navy to present an offer to buy the hull of the aircraft carrier São Paulo.

The proposal was made on Monday (30), after Folha revealed that the Navy was planning to sink the vessel due to the advanced degree of degradation of the former aircraft carrier.

The Saudi group is offering about R$ 30 million for the acquisition of the hull – three times more than the Turkish shipyard Sök Denizcilik and Ticaret Limited.

The Turkish company even signed the acquisition contract with the Navy, but decided to return the aircraft carrier after Turkey vetoed the entry of the vessel into its territory.

The NAe São Paulo (A-12) is a Clemenceau-class aircraft carrier that was in service with the Brazilian Navy between 2000 and 2014, having been decommissioned in 2020 – Rob Schleiffert – 23.Dec.13/Wikimedia

With the proposal, the Navy decided to postpone the sinking of the hull, which was scheduled to take place on Thursday (1). Military sources do not rule out the possibility of the vessel sinking unintentionally, since the ship’s buoyancy conditions are terrible.

“As proxies of the Sela group of Saudi Arabia we express interest in purchasing the hull of the former vessel ex-NaE São Paulo, thus assuming any and all operational costs with eventual structural repairs and toxic waste removal,” attorney Alex Christo Bahov, hired to represent the Saudis in the negotiation, wrote in an email to the Navy.

“The Sela group is aware of the problems and high costs involving the hull of the former vessel ex-NaE Sao Paulo, final destination to shipyard and dismantling with ‘green’ certification as well as the need for insurance and other obligations inherent to the operation with the hull in question,” he continues.

At the end of the email, the lawyer states that he expects a manifestation from the Navy “as soon as possible”, to start the negotiations and send a team of specialists to inspect the hull “as soon as possible”.

In response, Bahov received a short reply: “I acknowledge receipt,” wrote Staff Sergeant Leandro, stationed in the office of Navy Commander Admiral Marcos Sampaio Olsen.

Sought by Folha, Bahov said that the Saudi company is willing to carry out procedures to prevent the sinking of the vessel.

“The main problem, which is the tear in the hull, we can solve. We can send a diver, if it doesn’t give you a dry-dock. It is even possible to send a platform ship, which sinks and places the carrier in the bulge. What you can’t do is sink a ship like this, with the amount of dangerous material on board, such as asbestos and other chemicals that were declared in the inventory,” said the lawyer.

He added that the Saudi group has an economic interest in the aircraft carrier, with the dismantling of the parts, besides the fact that the hull represents an asset for whoever acquires it.

“It is the largest warship in the Atlantic. It is a big ship, with a beautiful design, that has history. It participated in nuclear tests when it was still a French flag. There’s an empowerment issue as well in acquiring something historic like the aircraft carrier.”

The aircraft carrier São Paulo is 266 meters long. Its armament consisted of three twin missile launchers and large-caliber machine guns.

Unused for decades, the ship was dismantled in France. In the 1990s, it even went through a de-amination process that removed 55 tons of the toxic product.

Even so, asbestos is still present in the walls of the aircraft carrier – the substance was used as thermal and acoustic insulator, to reduce the noise of aircraft taking off for the crew.

The aircraft carrier was sold by the Navy to the Turkish shipyard Sök Denizcilik and Ticaret Limited, which specializes in ship dismantling. The vehicle left Brazil on August 4, in a trip that generated protests around the world and was monitored in real time by Greenpeace.

The Navy says that after the decision to dismantle 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 faced with allegations of illegal asbestos exports, the Turkish government revoked the ship’s entry permit on August 26, when the vessel was approaching the Gilbraltar Strait on a tugboat trip.

The decision was in response to complaints from organizations such as Greenpeace and the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, which protested against the receipt of the ship.

Analyses made by the NGO Shipbreaking on an aircraft carrier twin to the São Paulo identified 760 tons of asbestos in the vessel. In view of this, the organization began to question whether, in fact, the hull sent by Brazil had the 10 tons of the toxic substance as predicted in the inventory.

“The critical increase in the degradation of the hull’s safety can be verified, whether by the loss of buoyancy conditions, or by the irreversible loss of minimum stability in breakdown for open sea navigation, in addition to the increase in the extent of the hull’s breakdown,” the technicians warn.

By mid-January, about 2,787 cubic meters of water entered the hull. The limit for safe navigation is 3,530 cubic meters.

“It is possible to affirm that we can guarantee the safety of navigation until we reach the limit now established for the embarkation of another 743 cubic meters of water, expected to happen, in the best hypotheses, in a maximum of four weeks,” he warns.

With no companies in Brazil to perform the green dismantling foreseen in the contract and the imbroglio with the Turkish company, the Navy planned the controlled sinking of the vessel.

The technique used would involve a series of explosions to open rips in the hull, which would also take into the ocean the more than nine tons of asbestos present in the vessel.

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

In Brazilian waters, Turkish tugboats left the hull of the carrier and the Navy took control of the vessel again.

The report of a Navy technical survey conducted on the ship on January 13 found tears in the hull, an increase in the level of flooding, and corrosion.

*** Translated by the DEFCONPress FYI team ***

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