Indian Navy’s aircraft carrier INS Viraat sets sail one last timeUpdated: Sep 20, 2020, 00:32 IST
Three years after it was decommissioned in 2017, INS Viraat set off on its final journey on Saturday, when it was towed out of Mumbai to be taken to the ship-breaking yard at Alang in Gujarat. Over the past three years, there have been numerous attempts to convert the historic naval vessel into a museum, but none of these came to fruition. INS Viraat was the longest-serving aircraft carrier in the world, having served both the British Royal Navy and the Indian Navy in its tenure. Some of its commanding officers, including admirals Madhvendra Singh, Arun Prakash, NK Verma and DK Joshi, have gone on to become chiefs of naval staff in the Indian Navy.
Last month, during an auction conducted by the Metal Scrap Trade Corporation Limited, INS Viraat was bought by Shree Ram Group for Rs 38.54 crore. Chairman of Shree Ram Group, Mukesh Patel said INS Viraat was expected to reach Alang around September 22. “We expect to generate around 15,000 tonnes of scrap from INS Viraat and the scrap will be sold to several steel rolling mills across the country,” said Patel. “I will be personally saluting the ship once it arrives at our yard before it is dismantled,” he added, saying the ship holds “a special place” because of its rich history.
Previously, the state governments of both Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh had expressed interest in turning the ship into a museum. However, no formal proposal was submitted. In July 2019, in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha, minister of state for defence Shripad Naik had said, “INS Viraat could not be handed over to any state government because of non-receipt of a self-sustaining financially complete proposal. Thus, in view of considerations of safety, security etc, a decision to scrap INS Viraat has been taken in due consultation with Indian Navy.”
INS Viraat was decommissioned on March 6, 2017. When the commissioning pendant of the longest-serving aircraft carrier was lowered, it was an emotional moment for many veterans in India and the United Kingdom who had served on the carrier. On Saturday, as INS Viraat set off on its last journey, Bharatiya Janata Party’s Rajeev Chandrasekhar wrote on Twitter, “I want to try one last attempt to save #INSViraat Flag of India. Wud Reliance, TATA, Adani, Wipro, HCL, Mahindra, Uday Kotak, Poonawalla, Tech companies like Infosys consider contributing to a trust to preserve our history? I rqst my media friends to amplify this appeal.”
Among those who have campaigned to save INS Viraat in the past are veterans of the UK’s Royal Navy, who served on the carrier when it was HMS Hermes (1959-1984). Last year, former member of the European parliament David Campbell Bannerman had written to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to request an intervention to postpone the auction. “Our plan would be to turn the ship back into INS Viraat form for key weeks in the United Kingdom so that the large Indian diaspora can attend events on board,” Bannerman had told HT, saying he was prepared to pay 5 million pounds but had received no response from Indian authorities.
Commissioned into the UK’s Royal Navy in November, 1959 as HMS Hermes, the aircraft carrier had served for 27 years, including in the Falklands War against Argentina in 1982, before being decommissioned in 1984. India bought the vessel and rechristened it INS Viraat. It was commissioned into the Indian Navy on May 12, 1987 and became the flagship of the Navy. Four Naval air squadrons in operated out of the aircraft carrier to undertake anti-submarine, search-and-rescue, and other necessary operations.
Soon after it was commissioned, INS Viraat saw active operations as 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. INS Viraat was last deployed in February 2016, in the International Fleet Review in Viskhakapatnam. The aircraft carrier 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.