Five minutes after the Indian Flag was lowered at the naval dockyard, the commissioning pendant of the longest serving aircraft carrier in the world was also lowered marking the end of a naval vessel’s tenure that served for 56 years. It was commissioned in 1959 and had worked with the British Royal Navy and the Indian Navy.
British officials who had served onboard the vessel said that it was surreal to see the once again. Andy Trish, who had joined the Royal Navy as a Naval airman in 1981 and served on INS Viraat which was then HMS Hermes, termed the journey as memorable. “I would like to take her with me,” said Trish.
Steven Robertson who served on the ship as a naval airman during the Falkland war in 1982 said, “I have seen her after a long time and it’s a tribute to see that she has been maintained so well.”
Another British national, Mark Shepherd, who was posted on the ship during the Falkland war, said that the ship should be turned into a museum for future generations to see and admire her. “I was a 16-year-old when I was posted on this ship, and I served for 103 days during the war. It is an absolute privilege to see the ship in such good condition,” said Shepherd. “It is necessary for the future generations to see and learn history. And I would like to see the ship to be turned into a museum,” he added.
Here, Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba said, “If the Andhra government refuses to turn it into a museum then the Navy will examine the option of turning into a marine museum.”
Commissioned into the Royal Navy in November, 1959 as HMS Hermes, INS Viraat served the British for 27 years before being decommissioned in 1984. India then bought the vessel and christened it as INS Viraat to be commissioned into the Indian Navy on May 12, 1987. It then became the flagship of the Navy.
Soon after its commissioning its saw active operations in July 1989 as a part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka after the Indo-Sri Lankan accord broke down. But it was not the first time she had seen active operations. While with the Royal Navy, she had played a major role in the Falkland wars in 1982.
The last day of duty for the ageing INS Viraat arrived when she was deployed in the International Fleet Review in Viskhakapatnam in February 2016. The Navy had decided to decommission it primarily because of the increasing operational costs involved to keep her battle ready.
She sailed her last from Mumbai to Kochi in July 2016. In October 2016, she was towed out of Kochi and returned to Mumbai.