Brazil plans to sink a decommissioned aircraft carrier that has been towed around the Atlantic for months with a damaged hull, a decision that is drawing criticism from environmentalists who say it is packed with toxic materials.
The navy said in a statement on Wednesday that the 60-year-old warship, the Sao Paulo, would be submerged, after trying withou success to find a welcoming port.
“Given the situation and the growing risk of towing [the ship], in light of the deteriorating buoyancy of the hull and the inevitability of a spontaneous, uncontrolled sinking, there is no option but to jettison it in a planned, controlled sinking,” it said.
Environmentalists criticized the decision, saying the aircraft carrier contains tonnes of asbestos, heavy metals and other toxic materials that could leach into the water and pollute the marine food chain.
Basel Action Network director Jim Puckett accused Brazil’s navy of “gross negligence.”
“If they proceed with dumping the very toxic vessel into the wilderness of the Atlantic Ocean, they will violate the terms of three international environmental treaties,” he said in a statement.
He urged Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to immediately halt the “dangerous” plan.
French environmental group Robin des Bois called the ship a “30,000-tonne toxic package.”
Built in the late 1950s in France, whose navy sailed it for 37 years as the Foch, the aircraft carrier earned a place in 20th-century naval history.
It took part in France’s first nuclear tests in the Pacific in the 1960s, followed by deployments in Africa, the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia from the 1970s to 1990s.
Brazil bought the 266m aircraft carrier for US$12 million in 2000.
A fire broke out on board in 2005, accelerating the aging ship’s decline.
Brazil last year authorized Turkish firm Sok Denizcilik to dismantle the Sao Paulo for scrap metal.
However, 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.
The navy said it had towed the ship to a location 350km off the Brazilian coast, with 5,000m-deep water, calling it the “safest area” for the operation.
The navy did not say when it plans to sink the ship.
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