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Clemenceau class - Disposal

Two aircraft carriers are necessary to ensure the operational permanence of the carrier group which allows the political authority to have a sovereign and always available capacity for projection of power from the sea. From 1963 to 1997, France disposed Of two aircraft carriers: the Clemenceau (1961-1997) and the Foch (1963-2000). This system proved effective on numerous occasions (independence from Djibouti, Lebanon, Yugoslavia, etc.).

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 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of asbesos would not proceed, as stipulated by the sales contract, in the Spanish port of Gijon, the contract was rescinded and declared void in late October 2003.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 (barring 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 was 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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Page last modified: 09-04-2017 16:01:37 ZULU