India’s largest and most-expensive warship, the INS Vikramaditya, faced embarrassing glitches during its home-bound voyage from the north Russian shipyard of Sevmash to the Karwar naval base in Karnataka, causing jitters in the defence ministry.
The $2.33 billion (Rs. 13,980 crore) aircraft carrier, bought second-hand from Russia and delivered five years behind schedule, reportedly suffered a boiler breakdown during its 42-day journey, compromising the warship’s ability to cut through choppy seas at a top speed of up to 56 kmph, a navy source said. The vessel has a history of boiler problems with 2012 sea trials failing due to a design problem in the ship’s boilers.
Moreover, the tanker accompanying the 44,500-tonne aircraft carrier failed to carry out a refuelling mission near the Portuguese coast, raising doubts about the navy’s ability to replenish warships on the high seas.
A senior defence ministry official confirmed to HT that the warship faced technical problems during its homeward journey and the navy would be asked to submit a detailed report on the incidents.
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The details have hit the navy at a time when it is trying to defend its safety record with the last six months witnessing 10 accidents, some of which have been overlooked by the navy as ‘non-incidents’.
Top navy officials, however, denied that the warship had encountered any significant difficulties, an assertion dismissed by the defence ministry. “One of the eight boilers on the warship malfunctioned. But the vessel can sustain itself at sea even if only four boilers are working,” the navy source said.
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“INS Deepak, the tanker, was unable to refuel the carrier off the Portuguese coast as the seas were very rough. The task was aborted till conditions were favourable,” the source added.
The INS Vikramaditya underwent a thorough examination of its boilers on reaching Karwar, an activity that top officials described as “routine maintenance work.”
This is only the latest controversy to hit the troubled aircraft carrier, supposed to be a gift from Russia with India paying only for the refurbishments. The original $947 million (Rs. 5,682 crore) deal, however, turned sour with multiple delays in delivery and a steep increase in price. The warship was finally delivered last year, five years behind schedule, with the Comptroller and Auditor General criticising the government for paying nearly 60% more than the cost of a brand-new aircraft carrier.