Ending a nearly six-decade service across two Navies, INS Viraat, the world’s oldest aircraft carrier, set sail for the final time on Saturday. After efforts by Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra governments to convert the Viraat into a maritime museum failed, the vessel was bound for the ship-breaking yard in Alang, Gujarat, where it will cease to exist within a year.
The Defence PRO Mumbai tweeted, “#Viraat Callsign “Romeo Two Two” – End of an era, a glorious chapter in the history of @indiannavy. She departs #Mumbai today for her final journey. Old ships never die, their spirit lives on.”
The decommissioned aircraft carrier was auctioned off last month by the Metal Scrap Trade Corporation and purchased by scrapping and recycling firm Shree Ram Group for Rs 38.54 crore.
The process is expected to take between nine and 12 months. Soon after the vessel departed Mumbai at 11.30 am, both common citizens and retired Indian Navy officers expressed anguish at the fact that the vessel could not be preserved.
The government had purchased the Viraat from the UK in 1987. HMS Hermes, as the vessel was then known, was commissioned into UK’s Royal Navy in 1959, served during the Falklands War in 1982, and was decommissioned two years later.
Commander R P Gupta (retd), who was part of the Viraat’s commissioning crew, compared the year spent bringing the vessel to life with giving birth to a child.
By the time the Viraat was decommissioned on March 6, 2017, the vessel had sailed over 5.9 nautical miles over 2,258 days at sea and logged 22,623 flying hours.
Four commanding officers of INS Viraat later become Chiefs of Naval Staff.
Not willing to go into reasons why the Viraat could not be preserved, Commander Gupta said, “Preserving the world’s oldest aircraft carrier would have been something to boast about. It is a sad day but you move on.”
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