Belle fin, Foch! Adeus, São Paulo!
The only sistership of the fleet carrier Clemenceau, the 32,000-ton flattop Foch (R99) was commissioned into the French Navy on Bastille Day 1963, carrying the name of the great mustachioed Marshal Ferdinand Foch of the Great War. Fast forward 60 years and her final chapter was written this past weekend.
She would serve the Republic well for 37 years through the Cold War and see the elephant off Djibouti in 1977 (Crusaders vs Yemeni MiG-21s), against Libya in 1984, and during the NATO Yugoslav intervention in the 1990s with her Etendards flying strikes against Serbian ground targets.
Decommissioned in 2000, she was sold for not much more than scrap value ($12 million) to Brazil and was commissioned as Navio Aeródromo (NAeL) São Paulo (A12), replacing the even older NAeL Minas Gerais (A11) which had been constructed as HMS Vengeance (R71) during WWII.
However, the cranky old French carrier never got out much, and as the Argentines had already disposed of their flattop– ARA Veinticinco de Mayo (V-2), a sister of Minas Gerais originally built as HMS Venerable (R63) — in 2000, it never made sense for the Brazilians to spend a ton of money refitting her for further service after a major fire in 2012.
Laid up for six years, she was decommissioned and was sold to a Turkish firm for scrap in 2022, after museum ship plans repeatedly fell through.
With the revelation that she likely had 600 tons of asbestos aboard, demonstrations in Turkey organized by leftist parties meant the old carrier was persona no grata for environmental reasons there.
Sent back to Brazil after mysterious offers from Middle Eastern buyers that probably would have seen her either show up in Iran or China, she was denied entry to port there as she was taking on water and the last thing desired was to have her on the bottom of the harbor in Rio.
In the end, the Brazilians seized her while still at sea and she was scuttled on 3 February 2023, some 220 miles offshore, in 15,000 feet of water.
Not since the ex-USS Oriskany (CV/CVA-34) was deep-sixed off Pensacola in 2006 to serve as a reef (after being cleaned of much of her PCBs and contaminants) has a carrier been disposed of in such a manner.