The São Paulo: International Hot Potato 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Bowing to the inevitable, on Tuesday August 30, 2022 the Brazilian Agency which had authorized the export of the Navy’s former flagship – the São Paulo – to Turkey called for its immediate return to Brazil following the Turkish Government’s cancellation of its import permit. In her Letter to Turkish Official Sadiye Bilgic Karabult, Carolina Fiorillo Mariani, Director of Environmental Quality of the IBAMA Institute, adopted a defensive position reaffirming “the regularity of the acts undertaken by the Brazilian authorities to authorize the [vessel’s] export;” however, in light of “Turkey’s withdrawal of consent,” the ship was now, she wrote, being recalled to Brazil.1

The international furore caused by the ship’s journey – categorized on August 30, 2022 by journalist Peter Suciu as “the voyage of the damned”2 – to an Izmir dismantling yard has been colossal. In Turkey, there were public rallies and high-profile demonstrations, multiple political meetings, a plethora of press releases from NGOs and campaigning bodies, as well as dozens of articles and news reports, not to mention an avalanche of social media posts.

Outside Turkey, a coalition of groups representing environmentalists, health and safety activists and other representatives of civil society coalesced to highlight the illegality of Brazil’s actions in allowing the ship to sail despite the fact that the export of a vessel laden with asbestos, PCBs, lead/cadmium paint as well as possible traces of radioactive material contravened international protocols and treaties such as 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.3 Newspaper and online articles about this example of “state-sponsored criminal waste trafficking” appeared in France, Brazil, Germany, Greece, Algeria, the Gulf States and elsewhere.4

Commenting on the negative publicity Brazil’s actions have attracted,5 Engineer Fernanda Giannasi – spokesperson for the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos Exposed (ABREA) – said:

“All of this could have been avoided if there had been transparency and legality in the process from the beginning, when the public notice regarding the auction of the aircraft carrier was first published. IBAMA, instead of behaving like a legitimate organ of the Brazilian State which should have denied authorization of the departure which did not comply with international conventions to which Brazil is a signatory, took a position in favor of this irregular departure, acting as a conduit for the current federal government’s anti-environmental policies.”6

Why stopping the São Paulo from entering Turkey has become such a cause célèbre is something of a curiosity. Many toxic ships are dismantled in Turkey every year, most of which undoubtedly contain asbestos. In addition, the country’s massive urban regeneration program has seen the demolition of thousands of buildings containing asbestos. Regulations and guidelines stipulating asbestos remediation prior to destruction of the built environment are routinely flouted, with the authorities turning a blind eye to the illegal activities of developers, contractors, renovators and construction workers.7


As of August 31, 2022, the São Paulo was off the coast of Morocco. The Basel Action Network which is monitoring the transit of the Dutch tug pulling the aircraft carrier says that the speed has remained consistent and the vessel is on course towards Turkey.

Should IBAMA’s call for the ship to return to Brazil be heeded, the problem of how to dismantle it will be a significant one, as there is neither the capacity nor expertise in Brazil to safely undertake this work. In light of this, campaigners will continue to monitor the whereabouts of the vessel, while Brazilian officials consider their options for ridding themselves of this international hot potato.

September 1, 2022


1 The Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis /IBAMA) is a federal agency under the Ministry of Environment and is the Brazilian Basel Convention Competent Authority.
Türkiye'ye girişi yasaklanan asbestli gemiye Brezilya'dan 'geri dön' çağrısı [Brazil 'return' call to ship with asbestos banned from Turkey]. August 30, 2022.

2 Suciu, P. 9 Tons Of Asbestos? A Toxic Aircraft Carrier Needs To Be Scrapped (But Where?). August 31, 2022.

3 Kazan-Allen, L. International Mystery - Where is the Sao Paulo? August 9, 2022.
Press Release. Turkey Demands New Survey of Massive Toxic Warship Before Import. August 23, 2022.
Press Release. Brazil Silent as Renegade Aircraft Carrier Moves in Defiance of Injunction and International Law. August 17, 2022.

4 Türkische Umweltaktivisten schicken einen brasilianischen Flugzeugträger auf Irrfahrt [Turkish environmental activists send a Brazilian aircraft carrier on an odyssey]. August 31, 2022.
Un porte-avions français chargé de produits radioactifs au large du Maroc [A French aircraft carrier loaded with radioactive products off Morocco]. August 30, 2022.
Turquia revoga autorização para desmantelar porta-aviões brasileiro [Turkey revokes authorization to dismantle Brazilian aircraft carrier]. August 26, 2022.
Asbestli Brezilya gemisi Türkiye karasularına sokulmayacak [Brazilian ship with asbestos will not enter Turkish territorial waters]. August 26, 2022.
Τουρκία: Αρνήθηκε την είσοδο σε βραζιλιάνικο αεροπλανοφόρο που πάει για διάλυση -Φόβοι για ρύπανση από αμίαντο [Turkey: Denied entry to Brazilian aircraft carrier going for scrapping - Fears of asbestos pollution]. August 26, 2022.

5 Turquia proíbe entrada de porta-aviões brasileiro no país [Turkey bans Brazilian aircraft carrier from entering the country]. August 27, 2022.
Preocupada com substância cancerígena, Turquia proíbe entrada de porta-aviões brasileiro para ser desmantelado [Concerned about carcinogenic substance, Turkey bans entry of Brazilian aircraft carrier to be dismantled]. August 27, 2022.
La Turquie annonce qu’elle ne démantèlera pas l’ancien porte-avions «Foch» [Turkey announces that it will not dismantle the former aircraft carrier “Foch”]. August 28, 2022.

6 Emails from Fernanda Giannasi. August 30 & 31, 2022.

7 Yüzen Tehlikeli Atıkların Gölgesinde Bir Emek Mücadelesi: Gemi Söküm Ýþçileri [A Labor Struggle in the Shadow of Floating Hazardous Wastes: Ship Breakers]. August 31, 2022.



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