Cold War, News

Brazil Sank its Aircraft Carrier After Failing To Sell it for Scrap

  • São Paulo used to be the largest ship in the Brazilian Navy. 
  • Asbestos contaminated the French-made ship built in the 1950s. 
  • On February 4, Brazil sank the warship into the Atlantic Ocean after failing to sell it for scrap. 
  • Environmental rights organizations opposed the sinking due to safety concerns. 

São Paulo: From the Biggest Warship to the Biggest Garbage bin.

São Paulo was a Clemenceau-class aircraft carrier built in the late 1950s. The ship was first commissioned in 1963 by the French Navy. In the 2000s, Brazil bought the warship. Soon, it became the new flagship of the Brazilian Navy.

The warship had the capacity to carry as many as 39 aircraft! 

The Sao Paulo
The Sao Paulo served with the French Navy before being sold to Brazil. Was it cunning of the French to offload a Toxic ship?

IHS Jane reported São Paulo faced serious serviceability issues during its career. It never managed to operate for more than three months at a time without needing repairs.

Later, on February 14, 2017, the Navy announced the ship’s demobilization. And then decommissioning began.

In March 2021, the Brazilian Navy sold the aircraft carrier as scrap to a shipyard in Turkey. Turkish authorities rejected the warship as it contained a toxic material called asbestos. Something that is often found in 20th-century ships.

Read More: USS Johnston the Deepest Shipwreck Ever Found

The warship circled the Brazilian coast after its return from Turkey. It was later moved to international waters. On February 4, the Brazilian Navy sank the ship in the Atlantic Ocean about 217 miles off the coast of Brazil.

Many see this as a controversial move.

Several environmental rights organisations opposed the ship’s sinking due to aquatic safety concerns. In addition, Greenpeace says the sinking of Sao Paulo throws “tons of asbestos, mercury, lead … into the seabed.”

Largest Warship In The Brazilian Navy’s Fleet

São Paulo was the biggest warship in Brazil, with a total load displacement of 32,800 tonnes. However, it is still small when compared to modern-day aircraft carriers.

Sao Paulo
The Brazilian aircraft carrier BNS Sao Paulo foreground with the USS Ronald Reagan (U.S. Navy photo)

Here’s something for comparison. The largest carrier in the world is the USS Gerald R Ford, which has a displacement of 100,000 tonnes!

Furthermore, the aircraft carrier measured around 870 feet in length. Global Security – an independent non-profit organisation that focuses on security research – reports that the warship’s hangar deck measured 499 feet by 79 feet.

Clemenceau-class Aircraft Carriers

The Clemenceau class aircraft carrier was named after Georges Clemenceau, France’s former two-time prime minister. These were the first ship carriers made after World War Two.

Later in 2009, authorities ordered the dismantling of the class’s first ship — Clemenceau.

São Paulo was the second ship of the class.

Read More: USS Gerald R Ford: World’s Largest Aircraft Carrier

France had built the vessel in the 1950s and initially named it ‘Foch.’ São Paulo served in the French Navy for several decades. It was first commissioned in 1963 and decommissioned in 2000.

Middle East

Conversely, São Paulo played an active part in the French Navy. The aircraft carrier also took part in France’s nuclear tests in the 1960s. It was the very first such test by the European power in the Pacific. Through the 1980s, it deployed in France’s military missions in Africa and the Middle East.

It was the last surviving ship of the Clemenceau class.

In September 2000, the Brazilian Navy bought the São Paulo from France for $12 million. The Brazilian Navy commissioned the São Paulo in November 2000. It was in use until February 2017, when it was officially declared out of service. Its pennant number was A12.

The Brazilian Navy had bought the ship to train pilots for carrier missions.

“Minas Gerais”
It’s not the first time Brazil has scrapped an aircraft carrier. Here the “Minas Gerais” lays stranded in India.

Henrique Cardoso, President of Brazil (1995-2002), explained that São Paulo’s purpose was to “operate with efficiency in the high seas.” He added that it was to strengthen its naval power to protect its 4,350-mile coastline.

Read More: The Cold War Soviet Sea Monster 

However, between 2005 and 2009, the warship was heavily refitted. Six boilers and four steam turbines powered the Brazilian behemoth. Despite the many repairs, asbestos and heavy metals leaked their way across the ship.

No one would touch it with a ten-foot barge pole!  Even for scrap.

The Capacity of São Paulo

The ship had a capacity for 1,920 people — 64 officers, 1,274 sailors, and 582 airmen. Furthermore, it could carry 22 jets and 17 helicopters—a total of 39 aircraft. São Paulo had an armament including 100-millimeter turrets, 12.7-millimeter machine guns, and dual Simbad launchers.

It’s a shame to see it go down the deep blue abyss, a place it was never intended to be. It’s more of shame to think of the environmental issues that it will now cause.