Forsaken ‘ghost’ ship to be sunk on the high seas, Brazilian navy says. Here’s why

Photo from Navios de Guerra Brasileiros

An aircraft carrier that was once a formidable flagship is now little more than a floating hunk of scrap with just one voyage left to undertake: a trip to the bottom of the sea.

The decommissioned ship, called the São Paulo, is critically damaged, and the Brazilian government has “no alternative” but to sink it, according to a Feb. 1 statement from the navy.

The scuttling of the São Paulo, a 32,000-ton behemoth, will follow a 60-year naval career marked by adventure, mishap and rapid decline, according to several naval historians.

Commissioned by the French government in the 1960s, the São Paulo — then called the Foch — was a “major French naval presence for various incidents across the Cold War and early post-Cold War era,” Phil Weir, a British naval historian, told McClatchy News.

The Foch ferried nuclear-capable aircraft around the world and was present during flash points in Djibouti, Lebanon and Serbia. The vessel was also “something of a film star,” serving as a backdrop in the blockbuster 1995 film “Crimson Tide,” Weir said.

In 2000, the French sold the ship to the Brazilian government, which had expressed an interest in expanding its naval capabilities in order to protect its 4,600 miles of coastline.

It appears to have been purchased “almost ‘sold as seen,’” Weir said.

“Her Brazilian career began well but descended into a nightmare for any navy, let alone one buying second-hand warships,” Simon Harley, a naval historian, told McClatchy News.

After a few years of cruises up and down the Atlantic and participation in several military exercises, misfortune began to strike, Weir said. A 2005 fire relegated the São Paulo to the docks for four to five years, and another “nasty” fire in 2012 kept it in a constant state of repair.

When it became clear the vessel would require a substantial financial investment to be made seaworthy again, the navy made the decision to decommission it in 2017, according to Defense Air and Naval, a Brazilian news site.

The forlorn vessel was sold at auction in 2021 to a Turkish company intent on dismantling it and selling its parts, according to Defense News.

However, 22 days after embarking on its voyage to Europe, Turkish authorities, citing environmental concerns, prohibited the ship from traveling to the country, according to the Brazilian navy.

When met with the news, the vessel tugging the São Paulo turned around and anchored it off the coast of Brazil, where it floated for months. An inspector sent aboard determined the “ghost” ship was unsalvageable, at risk of sinking and thereby banned from entering Brazilian ports, the navy said.

Left with no other choice, the government, in spite of push back from environmentalists, announced plans to scuttle the ship in a remote part of the ocean with a depth of at least 9,000 feet.

Unless the government reverses course, after 60 years of riding the waves, the São Paulo will soon be put to rest below them.

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