At 6.45 pm Monday, as the sun set, the Navy ensign fluttering on INS Viraat was lowered and her commissioning pennant was removed, sounding the bugle of her decommissioning. “She is no more an Indian Navy Ship. The grand old lady, as she is lovingly referred, is now just Viraat,” said a Navy officer on the sidelines of the decommissioning ceremony at the Naval Dockyard. While the aircraft carrier will no longer be in service for the Navy, the fate of the ship is still not clear. Of the many options, the Navy is exploring to converting it into a tourist spot by sinking the ship and making it into a dive site. “If the museum doesn’t work out, we will explore the possibility of converting it into a dive site,” Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba said.
“The MoD had proposed to gift the ship to any state government that is ready to bear the cost of converting it into a maritime museum. The MoD will not fund them,” Lanba said. When asked if the Andhra Pradesh government had reverted with a proposal to convert it into a hotel-cum-museum, Lanba said, “We haven’t heard from them.”
The decommissioning ceremony was attended by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Andrew Jones of the Royal Navy and his 20 officers’ contingent, officers from the Garhwal Rifles and all the flag and commanding officers of Viraat.
Before being commissioned into the Indian Navy on May 12, 1987, Viraat was part of the Royal Navy for 27 years as HMS Hermes. Three years ago after reading a report on the Indian government’s proposal to decommission Viraat, officers of the Royal Navy wrote to their chief to get the ship back to London.
The ship holds the Guinness World Records for being the longest serving warship of the world. The ship, which had been the centrepiece of the Navy, housed the fighters, Sea Harriers, of INAS 300 popularly called “White Tigers”, anti-submarine aircraft Sea King Mk 42B, Sea King Mk 42C known as “Harpoons” and the SAR helicopter Chetak as an integral flight.
The indigenous Advanced Light Helicopter ‘Dhruv’ and the Russian twin-rotor Kamov-31 have also operated from onboard the ship. The Sea Harriers fleet was decommissioned at Goa on May 11, 2016.