International Mystery – Where is the São Paulo?
According to a ruling by a regional court in Rio de Janeiro State, the São Paulo the former flagship of the Brazilian Navy should be on its way back to a Brazilian port having set sail on August 4 on its way to a dismantling yard in Turkey.1 The court issued an order that the ship return to Guanabara Bay as a precautionary measure. It has been reported that on August 5, the Supreme Court of Brazil also ordered the São Paulo to return to base and not leave Brazilian waters. As of now, the location of the vessel remains unknown with one Brazilian military expert speculating that the ship may have turned off its GPS to mask its current position.
The sale of the São Paulo to a Turkish buyer in 2021 has troubled civil society groups in Brazil and Turkey who argue that international treaties and protocols were not observed in the tendering process. The ship like its sister ship the Clemenceau contains a cocktail of dangerous substances including: asbestos, PCBs, lead/cadmium paint as well as possible traces of radioactive material. According to Jim Puckett, Director of the Basel Action Network (BAN):
What Turkey and Brazil are doing can best be called state-sponsored criminal waste trafficking. We have cited chapter and verse of their treaty violations and yet they've responded with the bureaucratic equivalent of a shrug. As we were forced to do with the CLEMENCEAU, we will have to rely on the citizens of multiple countries and responsible governments around the world to enforce the treaty obligations of Turkey and Brazil.2
The export of the São Paulo is illegal as it violates the 1996 Izmir Protocol on the Prevention of Pollution of the Mediterranean Sea by Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, the 1976 Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea Against Pollution and the 1992 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. The Inventory of Hazardous Materials produced for the São Paulo was inadequate at best and a gross deception at worst with the underreporting of toxic substances verging on the outrageous.
Non-governmental organizations in Brazil and Turkey, international groups and technical experts have reached out to both Governments but attempts at constructive dialogue have been rebuffed. The Çandarlı People's Assembly, launched a petition against the scrapping of the São Paulo at the Aliağa shipbreaking facility with Assembly spokesperson Mohammad Çekiç saying:
There are five major sites [in the Bakýrçay delta] and these sites have been here for over 30 years. If this ship with asbestos and nuclear waste is dismantled in Aliağa, right across from us, all of the waste will hit this shore together with the southeastern region. In other words, this situation will directly affect us.3
At a mass rally and outdoor concert on August 5, the Mayor of the Izmir Metropolitan Municipality Tunç Soyer was categorical:
The ship set off from Brazil. Today we raised a banner in front of the Brazilian Embassy in Ankara with our warning. We said: This ship will not come to İzmir. The ship is on its way, it is expected to arrive in İzmir in probably 30-40 days. But we will continue to do our best not to let this ship into İzmir. İzmir is not the garbage dump of the world. We will do many activities during these 30-40 days. Together we will protect İzmir, which we love as much as we can. The ship will go as it came.4
As the ship was built in France, the French President was requested to make sure the São Paulo does not end up on a South Asian beach and is safely recycled in an EU-listed yard or converted to other use.5 He has not done so.
The ultimate fate of this high-profile warship, the involvement of multiple governments and the increasingly irate objections of environmentalists, campaigning groups, local communities and politicians have ensured that the media coverage of this story has been huge.6 With the temporary disappearance of the vessel, attention will be intensified as the judicial authorities seek to enforce their rulings. Time will tell where the final resting place of the São Paulo will be. Watch this space.
August 9, 2022
1 Brazil's Supreme Court ordered the death ship São Paulo to stop coming to Turkey for dismantling. August 7, 2022.
2 Press Release Toxic warship Clemenceau II starts voyage from Brazil to the Mediterranean Sea. August 5, 2022.
Also see: Greenpeace Turkey. Toksik Savaş Gemisi için Ortak Bildiri [Joint Statement for Toxic Warship]. August 5, 2022.
3 Asbeste, karşı kıyıdan itiraz: O gemi gelmeyecek [Asbestos, objection from the opposite shore: That ship will not come]. August 3, 2022.
4 Fight Against Asbestos Ship In Izmir Moved to Mass Dimension. August 5, 2022.
5 Press Release Clemenceaus sister ship heading for the scrapyard. January 30, 2022.
6 CHP'li Rahmi Aşkın Türeli'den asbestli gemi tepkisi: Sorumlusu bakanlık ve hükümettir [Asbestos ship reaction from CHP's Rahmi Aşkın Türeli: Ministry and government are responsible].
August 7, 2022.
Also see: Asbeste, karşı kıyıdan itiraz: O gemi gelmeyecek [Asbestos, objection from the opposite shore: That ship will not come]. August 3, 2022.