Meanwhile, the environmental movement is heating up. Days after the ship left, Turkish officials asked Brazilian officials for a new inventory of hazardous materials. Unsatisfied with the response, Turkish officials canceled the import permit.
The ship and its tug, which had reached Gibraltar by then, had to turn back. Environmental groups see this as a huge victory.
However, Sao Paulo’s journey is far from over. When it approached Brazil in October, the Navy ordered it to stay off the northeast coast rather than return to its port of departure, Rio de Janeiro.
At that time, after two transatlantic crossings, the ship needed to dock for repairs. But the environmental movement is apparently working too well. Frightened local Brazilian officials pressured the port not to take the ship, but were repeatedly rebuffed. For reasons officials have never explained, the Navy never provided its own base. So the boat and tug started spinning.
As the months passed, MSK Maritime Services & Trading, partners in the recycling project with Sok Denizcilik, became desperate as the hull began to show minor damage. The company needed a port to repair the damage, and the tugboats consumed 20 tons of fuel a day. By January, MSK reported that it had lost $5 million on the project.
Environmental groups said they were puzzled that the Navy would not take back the ship and declined to say why it hadn’t. Under the Basel Convention, countries must re-import toxic waste that they cannot successfully export. Activists said Brazil violated the convention by not allowing the ship to dock. Officials denied this, citing that the ship was in Brazilian waters.
The Brazilian Navy did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article. In a prepared statement, it said that while it was no longer the owner of the ship, it had been following the case and that the ship’s owner had so far not met the requirements for a docking permit.