INS VIRAAT being dismantled

INS VIRAAT, mentioned in the Guinness Books as the world record holder, was brought by Shree Ram Group for Rs 38.54 crore in an auction conducted by the Metal Scrap Trade Corporation Limited last month. It was the world’s longest-serving warship and the second aircraft carrier in India. After being decommissioned from Indian Navy in March 2017, it was set to be scrapped at a ship-breaking yard at Alang in Gujarat in September 2020.  The decision of scrapping INS VIRAAT was taken under the consultation of the Indian Navy.

And now Decommissioned aircraft carrier INS Viraat sets sail for the final voyage, to Alang in Gujarat, where it will be dismantled and sold as scrap.

For Navy veterans who watched the huge vessel being towed by tug boats, there was a catch in the throat as they bade it an emotional farewell from the Gateway of India.

Viraat began its final voyage from the Naval dockyard where it was moored after being decommissioned in March 2017.

The government had finally informed Parliament in July last year that it had been decided to scrap the carrier.

On the orders of decommissioning, it was taken to the Kochi for a month-long deactivation when engines, rudders, boilers, and propellers were removed. And the weapon systems and operational types of equipment have been removed. Then, the time came for the decommissioning of VIRAAT, the ceremony of which was done formally at Naval Dockyard, Mumbai, in the presence of more than 13000 personnel who had served on board INS Viraat.

According to the background, after service in the British Navy as HMS Hermes, the ship served Indian Navy for 30 years. Then, it was decommissioned and headed to Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district, Alang, to be dismantled.
Several attempts by the Navy to preserve the carrier, either by converting it into a maritime museum or by other means, failed. But it was sold at last as scrap.

 Several states submitted so many proposals. In October 2016, the government of Andhra Pradesh submitted a proposal in which they stated the demand for its conversion into an aircraft museum, including tourist and hospitality components. It was intended to be done through a joint venture with the Centre on a commercial basis.  So the plans were confirmed about the transfer of the ship to Andhra Pradesh for its conversion into a museum ship at the cost of US$ 3 million. But after 2 months, the Defence Ministry rejected the proposal. Then, In 2018, the Maharashtra Cabinet approved a proposal to convert the carrier into a museum and hospitality centre on a Public-Private Partnership basis and had invited bids. But there were no takers.

Ever since it was decommissioned, the Navy had been incurring the expenditure for the provision of water, electricity, and repairs. Moreover, the warship was taking up space in the already crowded Naval dockyard at Mumbai.

A brief History of INS Viraat:

INS Viraat, a Centaur class aircraft carrier weighing 27,800 tonnes, length-226.5 m, Beam- 48.78 m, and draught-8.8m was initially commissioned by the British Royal Navy as HMS Hermes on 18 November 1959. In the closing years of the Second World War, the Centaur class was in the light fleet carrier designs built for the Royal Navy (British Navy). It had a speed of 52 km/h. During the Falklands War in 1982, the aircraft carrier had served as the flagship of the Royal Navy’s task force. It was decommissioned from active duty in 1985 after its service in the British Royal Navy for 25 years. The period was from November 1959 to April 1984.

 After evaluating its cost of maintenance and inability to find any viable option for its conversion into a museum, the union government decided to scrap Viraat and held an online auction in August 2020, Gujarat-based shipping firm Shree Ram Green Ship Recycling Industries purchased the ship from the Metal Scrap Trade Corporation Limited (MSTC). After refurbishment, it was commissioned into the Indian Navy on May 12, 1987, and served for almost 30 years. It had the nickname of Grand Old Lady. Its homeports were Mumbai and Maharashtra.

Once, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi along with his family, media persons, and prominent politicians visited Bangaram Atoll in Lakshadweep on boarding the INS Viraat. The last British-built ship serving with the Indian Navy, Viraat was the oldest aircraft carrier in service in the world. On 23 July 2016, Viraat was dry-docked and prepared for decommissioning when it sailed for the last time under her power from Mumbai to Kochi.

Besides, its operational history also reveals that the engine room of the ship was flooded which turned the vessel out of service. Then, new search radar in the vessel was fitted with life extension refit to extend its serviceability. The refit also included the propulsion systems with the modern communication systems and the sensors to sound emergency alerts. Additionally, a new hanger with fire curtains, a long-range surveillance radar, and weapon systems was also installed.

Then, during the fourth refit, it was ensured that the aircraft carriers would be fully operational. The ship was repainted at Cochin shipyard. Thus, the refits burden for the betterment of the ship.

Significant Achievements of INS Viraat:

The aircraft carrier operated Sea Harrier (White Tigers – fighter aircraft), Chetak (Angles – SAR helicopter), Sea King 42C (Commando Carrier helicopters), and Sea king 42B (Harpoons – Anti Submarine helicopters) as her key air elements.

If the contribution of INS Viraat is noticed in the protection movements for the country, it was the flagship of the Indian Navy as it provided utmost protection during many difficult situations. The iconic warship played a pivotal role in different other operations also as are below:

  • Operation Parakram- It was followed after the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament
  • Operation Jupiter – Operation Jupiter was the part of the Indian Peace Keeping Operations in Sri Lanka. The Indian intervention in the Sri Lankan Civil War was the deployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka intended to perform a peacekeeping role. The deployment followed the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord between India and Sri Lanka of 1987
  • The Ship also played a vital role in the Operation Vijay by creating a blockade against Pakistan during Kargil War of 1999.

The carrier was also brought into many international joint exercises. Exercises include:

  • Varuna with French Navy
  • Naseem-Al-Bahr with Oman Navy
  • Malabar a trilateral exercise with US and Japan Navy
  • Annual Theatre Level Readiness and Operational Exercise (TROPEX)

In February 2016, there was the international fleet review at Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh in which the carrier participated for the last time in the operation deployment held in Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.

Sharpening the art of flying operations from a carrier deck in the Navy has been instrumental. It has resulted in the seamless induction of INS Vikramaditya, a modified Kiev-class aircraft carrier and the flagship of the Indian Navy, which entered into service in 2013.