MERSIN, Turkey — Two groups are hoping to make a last ditch effort to save a retired Brazilian aircraft carrier that’s planned to be scrapped. One wants to turn the ship into a museum. The other, a training ship for the Turkish Navy.
The Sao Paulo/Foch Institute in Brazil is trying to prevent the aircraft carrier Sao Paulo from making its way to Turkey for disassembly and instead hopes to turn it into a museum.
Such moves may be a long shot.
The carrier, originally known as Foch when it entered service with the French Navy in 1963, was the second vessel of the Clemenceau class. Construction had begun in 1957.
The ship was decommissioned in 2000, when the French Navy commissioned the Charles de Gaulle carrier. It was then transferred to Brazil and renamed Sao Paulo, with the bilateral agreement for the ship stipulating Brazil as its “final user.” Sao Paulo entered service for the Brazilian Navy on November 2000.
After Brazil decommissioned the ship in 2018, the government began the process of selling it, while the Sao Paulo/Foch Institute sought to convert it into a museum. The government was unable to find a buyer last year, but then sold the vessel to the Turkish company Sok Denizcilik in an auction last month for about 10.55 million reals (U.S. $1.85 million) to dismantle it.
But the Sao Paulo/Foch Institute hasn’t given up.
“Our story has not yet ended with the sale of the ship,” Emerson Miura, president of the institute, told Defense News. “The decommissioning of the aircraft carrier Sao Paulo left many people unhappy. The Sao Paulo aircraft carrier (ex-Foch) remains the last ship in its category and one of the oldest in the world. Our institute was prohibited from participating in the purchase because the auction notice specified the sale for cutting.”
He added that the organization has been preparing a new proposal to purchase the ship and turn it into a museum.
“It would be much more profitable and beneficial than dismantling the ship. Approximately 600 tons of asbestos — hazardous for human health and nature — are encapsulated in the ship. Such an agreement would decrease the ship’s dismantling expenses, and transporting the ship to the Mediterranean will be very expensive. We are trying to contact [Sok Denizcilik],” he said.
Meanwhile, a former admiral in the Turkish Navy wants to see the Sao Paulo reequipped and used for training service members, rather than disassembled for scrap metal. The dismantling process is to take place at the Aliaga district’s ship recycling facilities.
Retired Adm. Cihat Yayci, who currently manages a global strategy center in Bahcesehir University, recently pitched the idea of reactivating the aircraft carrier for naval training.
“Instead of dismantling this ship, we should equip it with different systems that are currently used and start the training of forward-looking aircraft carrier personnel today. It is critical to start the training of personnel for the future aircraft carrier. It does not matter how old Sao Paulo is, and it should be thought of as educational material in the form of puzzles, disassemble, use and wear. At this point, the important thing is to train naval personnel on this platform and to gain the habit of working with an aircraft carrier,” Yayci said.
During the January launching ceremony for Turkey’s first I-class frigate, the Istanbul, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promoted efforts for local aircraft carrier production to strengthen the Turkish Navy’s capabilities.
“Even if we do not use Sao Paulo actively for the Turkish Navy, it could be used as a simulator to disassemble, attach, testing, dismantling, repairing,” Yayci said. “It is a great and very cheap opportunity for education, engineering experience, observation, examination. The price of this ship is $1.9 million while a similar simulator costs more than $30 million.”
But some defense industry experts question the cost-effectiveness refitting the Sao Paulo, even for training purposes, arguing money would be better spent on existing projects. Furthermore, the ship has had a problematic past.
In May 2005, an explosion took place in the steam network of the engine room. There was considerable damage to the propulsion system. Following repairs, and with the vessel ready to enter service in 2013, it suffered another major fire in 2012. The ship was still undergoing repairs through September 2016; then-commander of the Brazilian Navy Adm. Eduardo Leal Ferreira, said plans were in place to renew the carrier’s propulsion system. The ship’s catapult was also reported to have problems.
In addition, the original agreement between France and Brazil as well as a powerful Turkish government official would likely prevent a refit.
The head of the Turkish government’s Presidency of Defence Industries, Ismail Demir, who is responsible for defining and managing Turkey’s defense industry policy, said there is no need to spend money and time on an old ship.
“Constructing an aircraft carrier is not a big deal for the shipbuilding industry of Turkey. If we take it on the agenda in the future, we will start working on relevant systems ASAP,” he said.
Tayfun Ozberk is a Turkey correspondent for Defense News.