The world’s oldest serving aircraft carrier, INS Viraat, will be withdrawn from service on Monday, ending a 56-year-long sea odyssey that saw the British-build ship serve two countries and sail a distance that would have taken it around the globe 27 times.
The decommissioning ceremony at the Mumbai dockyard will be attended by India’s chief of naval staff S Lamba and the British Royal Navy’s 1st Sea Lord, admiral Sir Phillip Jones.
The ship will be dismantled in four months if there are no buyers, NDTV quoted the navy chief as saying ahead of the decommissioning ceremony at 5.45 pm.
Reports said talks are on with the Andhra Pradesh government which has expressed interest in taking in the ship.
The gala event will see the lowering and wrap-up of the naval flag installed on the warship at sunset.
Referred to as the ‘Grand Old Lady’ in the naval community, Viraat was completed and commissioned in 1959 in the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom as HMS Hermes.
It was decommissioned in 1984 and subsequently commissioned in the Indian Navy on May 12, 1987.
Aircraft like Sea Harriers, White Tigers, Seaking 42B, Seaking 42C and Chetak helicopters have operated from the warship.
The Sea Harrier fleet was recently decommissioned in Goa in May 2016.
Under the Indian Navy, aircraft have clocked more than 22,034 hours of flying from INS Viraat’s decks.
The ship spent nearly 2,250 days at sea, sailing 5,88,288 nautical miles, thereby implying that Viraat has been at sea for over six years and sailed around the globe about 27 times.
Viraat has served the Indian Navy for 29 years and is the last of the British-built ship serving them.
INS Viraat sailed under her own power for the last time from Mumbai to Kochi in July 2016. In October 2016, she was towed out of Kochi and returned to Mumbai.
Soon after commissioning, it saw active operations when it became part of Operation Jupiter in July 1989 as 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 that she had seen active operations. While with the Royal Navy, she had played a major role in the Falkland wars.
The last of operational duties for the ageing INS Viraat came when she was deployed in the International Fleet Review in Viskhakapatnam in February 2016. But then, the Navy had to decide on its fate, primarily due to the ever increasing operational costs involved to keep her battle ready.
The ship’s name is entered in the Guinness World Records.