A team of Germans has unveiled the first effort to convert a 58-year-old French aircraft carrier into a luxury yacht, complete with golf course.

The Foch was the second Clemenceau-class aircraft carrier to serve with the French Navy from 1963 to 2000, after which it was sold to Brazil and renamed São Paulo.

The historically important vessel, which carried 40 modern aircraft, was decommissioned in 2018. Since then, it has been used for scraping recyclable materials. A Turkish company bought it in March 2021 for $1.86 million in order to dismantle the ship.

Several medium-sized German companies from Düsseldorf have now joined forces for a project called the Düsseldorf Initiative to buy out and convert the 869-foot ship flight deck into a luxurious leisure space.

The new concept is based on the Dutch Studio Mitsi’s Super Yacht model, called the Noah Twins Carrier, which is a design for the first aircraft yacht in the world.

Udo Stern, entrepreneur and spokesperson for the Düsseldorf Initiative, said he was looking for an international investor who will buy the ship, pay the transfer costs and finance its renovation. The group companies would then be involved in the yacht deal.

“It’s not about the money for us. I’m thinking of a European ship of cultures, a globally unique project to transform a military into a civilian object,” Stern said.

He also said the 148,000-square-foot hangar under the flight deck holds a sufficient amount of space for exhibitions, sporting events, cinemas and concerts.

A computer animation of how the Foch will look after it is converted into a luxury yacht. Photo from Thomas Loopstra. (Mitsi Studio/Zenger)

The team is waiting for France’s resale approval, which is pending.

Stern said a visionary from the tourism industry could easily — and profitably — convert the ship’s 55 military rooms into hotel rooms, casinos and restaurants.

The Clemenceau-class aircraft carriers Clemenceau and Foch formed the backbone of the world’s second-largest carrier force for the latter half of the Cold War. Both vessels were of CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery) design, which was a system used for the launch and recovery of aircraft from the deck of carriers.

The ship can sail at a maximum speed of 30kt (34 mph), and accommodate 1,920 personnel, including ship company, air group and troops.

The disposal of the São Paulo aircraft carrier carries controversy

The dismantling of the French-origin ship has sparked discussion over the pollution risk associated with the scrap-cutting process.

“The French Courts stopped the scrapping of the asbestos-laden aircraft carrier Clemenceau on the beach of Alang, India, in 2006. Fifteen years later, France is faced with a second toxic headache, said the NGO Shipbreaking Platform in a press release.

“It is estimated that onboard the vessel there are approximately 900 tons of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials, hundreds of tons of PCB-containing materials and large quantities of heavy metals.“

“The large amounts of asbestos still onboard the São Paulo need to be handled and disposed of without exposing workers and surrounding communities to the risk of cancer,” said Annie Thebaud-Mony, director of research at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris.

The Foch aircraft carrier served with the French Navy from 1963 to 2000. (Zenger)

“The contractual clause in the sale of the Foch to Brazil gives France the last say in where the aircraft carrier can be dismantled. French authorities must direct the Clemeceau’s sister ship to an EU-approved facility — anything else would be a scandal,” she said.

The São Paulo-Foch Institute in Brazil — a group of Brazilian and French ex-military personnel — hopes to prevent the aircraft carrier, São Paulo, from being dismantled. They want to 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.”

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform sent a letter to the Turkish Ministry of Environment and Urbanization in June 2021.

“The aircraft carrier should not be allowed to leave Brazil until and unless the IHM [an Inventory Hazardous Materials certificate] is completed.  [The sale of the ship] must therefore be annulled and subject to rebidding, based on legal constraints and a proper and accurate IHM,“ said the NGO.

The dismantling process is to take place at the Aliaga district’s ship recycling facilities.

Edited by Angie Ivan and Fern Siegel

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