The historic aircraft carrier INS Viraat, beached at Alang on September 28, will continue to idle on the shores of the ship-breaking yard for two months, before an army of labourers can start dismantling it.
The INS Viraat lies 3000 feet away from the Alang shore, marked by the thick blanket of oil covering the sand caused by years of vessels gliding over to be broken. During high tide on September 28, the “dead vessel” was brought near the shore using a tug as the aircraft carrier had no power of it’s own. Usually, when a vessel is beached at Alang, it uses the force of high tide as well as its own engine power to glide on to the shore at speeds ranging between 15-20 knots. Viraat came at a speed of 2-3 knots and ran aground 3000 feet away from shore. It has been secured by iron ropes that are tied to diesel-powered wrenches. This ensures that the vessel does not tilt or change its position during tides and ebbs.
How will INS Viraat be now brought closer to the shore?
The owners of Shree Ram Group which bought INS Viraat from an auction for Rs 38.54 crore said their plots were “green ship recycling” yards which have certificates from Hongkong Convention and European Union. As it is a green yard, it is ensured that the ship is not broken down in the sea and the entire vessel is broken once it is dragged to the shore. Cranes are also used to ensure that the broken parts do not fall into the sea.
During high tide, the sea-facing wrenches which are connected with iron ropes fastened to the aircraft carrier will be switched on. These wrenches will slowly drag the warship to the empty space on the beach marked out between an aging half-broken oil rig and a container ship.
“Dragging the ship 3000 feet inland will take more than a month as it can be done only during high tides. The soil underneath also plays a part. If it’s muddy, it is easier to winch and if it’s rocky, it will be difficult. Secondly, being a naval vessel, it has a smaller base and so it is more difficult to pull to the shore when compared to a wide-base oil tanker,” said Mukesh Patel, chairman of Shree Ram Group of companies which will break INS Viraat.
When will breaking begin?
The ship will need a “cutting permission” from the Gujarat Pollution Control Board and the Gujarat Maritime Board before the dismantling can commence. This will be done after a physical inspection of the ship by different agencies post-beaching.
How long does it take to obtain this permission and what due diligence is required?
The oil in engines and other machinery have to be emptied. Old batteries have to be removed. Any flammable liquids including the left-over fuel in the tanks will have to be pumped out. These tanks have to be cleaned and made free of any residue gases accumulated inside the fuel tanks. This process takes about 20-30 odd days.
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What about hazardous substances onboard?
Once the ship comes on the shore, an independent agency appointed by Shree Ram Group will prepare an Inventory of Hazardous Materials (IHM). This agency will go onboard, take all samples including the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and send it to a laboratory for testing before the IHM is made and handed over to the ship breaker. This IHM acts as a guide and the ship breaker makes marking on board the vessel indicating the hazardous portions of the ship. Then the HAZMAT (hazardous material) team of the ship breaker will remove the hazardous substances before the breaking begins.
Once the cutting begins, hazardous substances like asbestos, batteries and ozone-depleting gases will have to be tackled and disposed of safely. Being an old ship that began to be built in the 1940s, it is expected to contain ozone-depleting gases which have to be recovered and handed over to the authorities. The non-green gases like R12 and R22 which will be in the chilling compressors are now banned in India. Substances like freon gas, a chlorofluorocarbon, are used for cooling process in the ship. Even during the cutting process, nonhazardous waste like glass wool which as used as insulation in living quarters will be extracted.
Is it more difficult to break an aircraft carrier compared to a merchant ship?
Yes. Being a naval ship, it not only has a double hull made of steel plates that are several inches thick but also has multiple small compartments which take time to cut and dismantle. The ski jump —-which is an upward curved ramp that allows the aircraft to take off from the ship —- is likely to be the first part that will be broken. Even when other merchant vessels or oil tankers are broken, the dismantling begins from the front of the ship.
What happens to the parts dismantled from a ship?
Parts dismantled from ships at Alang are usually recycled or sold. For instance, reusuable parts of oil rigs are sold to oil and gas companies. The steel from the ships go to the re-rolling mills in Bhavnagar. Small items like cutlery and mementos are sold in the shops near Alang. As far as INS Viraat is concerned, automobile companies have already contacted the ship-breaker for the steel salvaged from the warship.
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