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In the initial period after Second World War the French navy had 5 aircraft carriers, the oldest of which was constructed before the war, but their value was very limited. The French navy, in order to eliminate these older ships, thus designed these two light fleet carriers which were laid down in the mid-1950s.

Conceived before the arrival of General de Gaulle, the Clemenceau and Foch aircraft carriers made it possible to affirm the French policy of independence with regard to Atlantic Alliance and to affirm the sovereignty of France. After the Second World War already, the construction of an aircraft carrier Clemenceau, the PA-28, had been considered but the idea had been abandoned. Put on hold in November 1955, Clemenceau was launched in December 1957, entered in service in November 1961 and carried out its first sortie at sea in 1963.

Georges ("The Tiger") Clemenceau [1841-1929] was the French Radical Prime Minister in the last year of World War I, and a vocal opponent of earlier political and military leaders in the French war effort. An ardent opponent of Germany, his political leadership in the last year contributed greatly to Allied victory. His ardor earned him the nickname. Clemenceau is often credited for the phrase "War is too important to be left to the generals." Clemenceau, to the dismay of the French high command, insisted on frequent firsthand visits to the front lines to observe the performance of senior military.

French General (later Marshal of France) Ferdinand Foch [1851-1929] served briefly in the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1. He subsequently returned to school and was commissioned 1873 in the field artillery. Forch graduated from the War College in 1885, and served on the faculty 1894-1913. He was promoted to school director and brigadier general by Clemenceau, the war minister and a friend, in 1907. He was given command of XX Corps in 1913, and once the war began he rose quickly to command an army, then an army group. He was semi-retired with Joffre, with whom he had close ties. He worked on Allied plans to aid Italy, which worked like a charm when put to the test in 1917. Foch then worked on the new Supreme War Council until appointed, on Haig's advice, generalissimo of Allied forces, 26 March 1918 in the face of the German spring offensive. Promoted to Field Marshal 6 August 1918, Foch implemented his war-winning "roulement strategy," in July 1918. Foch dictated the peace terms to the German delegation in his railway car at Compiegne. On learning of the terms of the Versailles Treaty, he said, "This is not peace. It is an armistice for 20 years." Foch reputedly stated in March 1913 that "aviation is fine as sport. I even wish officers would practice the sport, as it accustoms them to risk. But, as an instrument of war, it is nothing (c'est zro)."

These vessels incorporated all the advances in carrier design made in the immediate postwar period. They served the French Navy in both European and Pacific waters, with operations in the latter supporting of the remaining French colonial territories and nuclear testing. They were among the most powerful units in the Mediterranean and at least one carrier was off Lebanon at all times when French military units were ashore as part of the international peacekeeping forces in Beirut. Following the paying-off of the British aircraft carrier Ark Royal these were for a time the largest units in any European navy.

The Clemenceau class aircraft carriers are of conventional in design. The flight deck extends 543ft (165.5m) by 97ft (29.5m) and is angled at 8 degrees to the ship's axis. The forward aircraft elevator is offset to starboard, and the after elevators is positioned on the deck edge to increase hangar capacity. One of the two 170ft (52m) catapults is to port, while the other catapult is on the angled deck. The hangar deck, which is offset to port, has a usable length of 499ft (152m) and a width of 72-79ft (22-24m). It has 23ft (7m) overhead clearance.

A new generation of aircraft was designed to operate from these carriers. Two flights each of ten Etendard IVM ground support fighters (with integral reconnaissance capability) were initially embarked, along with a flight of Alize turbo-prop ASW aircraft, while F-8E Crusaders were purchased from the USA in 1963 and from 1966 made up the interceptor flight.

On December 19, 1956, government officials awarded a contract to design, produce and fine-tune a ship-borne Etendard IV M, a low- and medium-altitude strike and fighter plane for use on Clemenceau-class vessels. Between December 9, 1961, and May 26, 1965, the French Navy's air arm took delivery of 69 Etendard IV Ms and 21 Etendard IV Ps - and went on to clock transonic speeds for the first time in its history. The Etendard IV Ms served in the French Navy until July 1991, in a ship-borne fighter school, the Squadron 59 S of Hyres, which they had entered in October 1965.

The Etendard IVM was then replaced by the Super Etendard, which can carry Exocet anti-ship missiles and has a nuclear strike capability. The Super-Etendard was France's first combat aircraft featuring modern weapon outfits. But the relatively small size of the ships, together with the limited capacity (20 tons) of the elevators and catapults has made it difficult to find a replacement for the F-8Es. A further limitation on the effectiveness of these ships is their lack of integral airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft. and they would have the same problem as the British Task Force in the 1982 South Atlantic war if the were to deploy against a reasonably sophisticated enemy. Both carriers normally embark two Super Frelon ASW helicopters and two Alouette IIIs.

As of 1985 plans Clemenceau was due to payoff in 1995, followed by Foch in 1998, but this depended upon satisfactory progress with the new nuclear carriers. Meanwhile, both were upgraded at their refits, which included replacing four 100mm guns by Naval Crotale SAM launchers. Clemenceau underwent refit from 01 September 1985 through 31 August 1989, which included remodelling construction such as anti-aircraft missiles. Foch was under refit from February 1987 to early 1988.

Affected to the squadron of the Mediterranean of 1960 to 1965, Clemenceau passed then in the Atlantic then operated in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean in the Sixties, and took part in the 1991 Gulf War. A qenuine instrument of sovereignty, just like Foch, this ship was armed with sea-to-air missiles Crotale EDIR and guns of 100 mm. She had an armored bridge and Sagaie chaff launcher.

At one time the Chinese were reported to be negotiating with France to acquire the carrier Clemenceau after she was retired and replaced with the nuclear-powered carrier, Charles de Gaulle. At the end of 1995 it was reported that France had offered to give China, gratis, the 32,700-ton carrier Clemenceau. In return it was expected that French companies would be awarded lucrative contacts to upgrade the vessel's radar and communication systems. Nothing came of the proposal.

The Clemenceau was damanged in a fire on 21 July 1991. Clemenceau carried out her last exit with the sea on July 16, 1997, and was was decommissioned on 01 October 1997. The vessel was sold for scrap on June 13, 2003, following a appeal for tenders on April 14, 2003. Following evidence that part of the removal of asbesos would not proceed, as stipulated by the sales contract, in the Spanish port of Gijon, the contract was rescinded and declared void in late October 2003.

A second nuclear aircraft carrier was desired to ensure 100% operability, although planners acknowledged that there might not be enough funds for France to develop such a vessel alone. When the order for second Charles de Gaulle carrier was first delayed, it was planned to retain the Foch in reserve to be reactivated when Charles de Gaulle was being refueled. However Foch could not operate Rafale M's or E-2C Hawkeye's. Giving her these capabilities would have required a major and expensive rebuild, which was not judged to be cost effective given the limited additional service she would see (baring a war, probably just a 15-18 month period around 2004-6, perhaps the same again around 2011-13 ). The decision was therefore made in 1998 that there was no need to retaining Foch, which was sold to Brazil while she still had maybe 10 years hull life left. The FNS Foch, the last Clemenceau Class carrier, was retired on 15 November 2000. She was transferred to the Brazilian navy, renamed Sao Paulo, and in February 2001 re-commissioned.

The 1992 Convention of Basle promotes the environmentally sound disposal of wastes through a three-pronged strategy of minimizing the generation of wastes, treating wastes as near as possible to where they were generated, and minimizing international movements of hazardous wastes. The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal is the most comprehensive global environmental agreement on hazardous and other wastes. It has over 160 Parties and aims to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects resulting from the generation, management, transboundary movements and disposal of hazardous and other wastes. The Basel Convention governs the movement of scheduled hazardous wastes from OECD countries to non-OECD countries. The Basel Convention Secretariat is administered by the United Nations Environment Program.

The international legal status of obsolete ships such as the Clemenceau is currently a matter of spirited debate. One issue is whether a ship on its final voyage to the scrapping yards should be regulated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), or whether it should be covered by the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.

The Secretariat of the Basel Convention does not have a mandate to render its own legal judgement on this question. Until Governments reach a final conclusion on this question, individual States will need to be guided by their own national laws. The Basel Convention requires exporters of hazardous wastes to obtain the prior informed consent of both transit countries and countries of final destination. France and India are both Parties to the Convention and have therefore adopted national legislation for implementing this and other Convention requirements.

With thousands of ships expected to become obsolete over the coming few years, it is vital for the international community to finalize its work on an international legal regime for ship scrapping. For the sake of the environment, ship-scrapping workers and the global shipping industry, the systems established by the Basel Convention, the International Labour Organization and the IMO need to be integrated and made fully compatible as soon as possible. Discussions on this issue of obsolete ships are ongoing within several forums, and it was on the agenda of the Basel Convention meeting in Geneva from 3-7 April 2006.

Greenpeace activists boarded the decommissioned French aircraft carrier Clemenceau 12 December 2005 at Toulon to protest plans to send the ship to scrap at Alang, India, despite the presence of residual asbestos. The ship had been partially cleared of asbestos and the decontamination firm claimed that the ship's structure would be unacceptably weakened if further removal took place. Greenpeace and other environmental groups argued it carried far more asbestos than the 45 tons French officials first reported. The activists left the ship 14 December 2005.

Clemenceau steamed out of the port of Toulon on 31 December 2005, the object of a growing international dispute. On 12 January 2006, two more Greenpeace activists boarded the Clemenceau off the coast of Egypt and chained themselves to the mast. Egypt requested additional information from France before allowing access to the Suez Canal to ensure there are no violations of the Basel Convention. Egypt finally gave the green light.

In the first week of January, India's supreme court ruled that information about the vessel was inadequate and has asked that the vessel stay at least 200nm off the shore of India until more information can be obtained.

After weeks of uncertainty over the Clemenceau's fate, on 15 February 2006 French President Jacques Chirac ordered the ship returned home. Chirac's decision came on the eve of a visit to India, where opposition had been growing against the ships planned dismantlement in the Alang shipwrecking yards. After a two-month voyage bound for India's shipwrecking yards, Clemenceau returned home after experts concluded it carries far more asbestos than French authorities originally claimed. Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie still argues the government's choice of sending the Clemenceau to India had been a responsible one.

The Clemenceau returned to Berst, France on 17 May 2006. Two years later, Able UK, a company specializing in complex demolition processes, announced that it had received a contract to dismantle Clemenceau at its Teesside Environmental Reclamation & Recycling Centre facility at Graythorp, Hartlepool, on the UK's North East coast. On 8 February 2009, Clemenceau arrived at the facility. Work began on 18 November 2009 and the ship was declared broken up in mid-to-late 2010.

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