Brazil Refuses To Allow Its Own Toxic Aircraft Carrier To Dock – OpEd

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Three months after its return to Brazil, from an aborted voyage to Turkey, the toxic aircraft carrier SÃO PAULO continues to be towed in circles off the coast of Pernambuco state, Brazil, with no plan or effort by the Brazilian Environment Agency (IBAMA) or Brazilian Navy to provide the vessel a safe mooring place.  This failure to act comes after a Salvage Master inspector declared the ship is taking on water and needs repair and the owners of the ship threatened to abandon the vessel.  

In a letter to the new Environmental Minister and director of IBAMA, the coalition of international and national NGOs that have raised the alarm about the ship are renewing their past calls to the new Brazilian Administration to immediately allow the ship to dock at  a Brazilian Naval facility, undergo repairs and subsequently carefully surveyed for all of the hazardous materials on board.

“Allowing the SÃO PAULO to continue its infinite loop off the coast of Brazil is a total dereliction of duty by the Brazilian Navy, IBAMA, and the Brazilian government as a whole,” says Jim Puckett, Executive Director of Basel Action Network. “As is their obligation under Article 8 of the Basel Convention, they must allow this vessel into port with haste to begin the necessary repairs and inspections and finally prepare the ship for its proper and safe recycling.”

According to the coalition, the Brazilian Navy and Brazilian Environmental Agency IBAMA are not fulfilling their country’s legal obligations under the Basel Convention in managing the SÃO PAULO in an environmentally safe manner, as it continues to drift twelve to sixteen nautical miles from land, burning fuel and resources. Due to their frustration with the government’s failure to give them safe haven, the new owners, MSK Maritime Services & Trading LTD, gave the government a twelve-hour warning to allow the ship into port or they would immediately abandon it. Though this threat was met with a court injunction prohibiting such an action, the NGOs say that the Brazilian government is to blame, and now must move with extreme urgency to resolve this matter.

In their letter, the coalition laid out the requirements for proper and safe recycling of the vessel, considered hazardous waste under the Basel Convention. The groups reiterate the need for a full, independent, and transparent Inventory of Hazardous Materials (IHM) found onboard the ship, especially the asbestos, heavy metal-laden paints, PCBs, and the possible presence of radioactive isotopes.

They also stated that the ship should not return to Aliaga, Turkey, where it was once destined, due to the community protest there due to irregularities and violations of rights workers’ and community health. The vessel should, however, move to an EU-approved ship recycling yard in accordance with the demands of France (the original owner of the ship). The groups also warn the government that the ship should not be scuttled or sunk to become an “artificial reef” or any other form of deliberate sinking, which the Brazilian Navy discussed as a real possibility in a December 29 inter-agency meeting.

“Enough is quite enough,” said Ingvild Jenssen Director of the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, from Brussels. “What we are witnessing with the SÃO PAULO is gross negligence on the part of Brazil. We call on the new Lula Administration to take immediate action to safeguard and defuse this floating time bomb.” 

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