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High tide by high tide, INS Viraat is pulled to the shore, to its end

INS Viraat is the second aircraft carrier to be broken in India in the last six years. In 2014, INS Vikrant, which played a crucial role in the 1971 Indo-Pak war, was dismantled in Mumbai.

Written by Avinash Nair | Ahmedabad | Updated: December 13, 2020 7:40:34 am
Gas torches cutting through the carrier at Alang. (Express)

As Sunday brings another high tide, INS Viraat will be winched closer to the shore in Alang, speeding up the breaking of the iconic aircraft carrier.

For a week now, dismantling of the carrier has been on at the Alang ship-breaking yard in Bhavnagar, with over 250 workers starting work from the ‘ski jump’, or the curved ramp, side, from where aircraft used to take off from the ship. “About 5 per cent of the ship has already been broken,” said Mukesh Patel, Chairman of the Shree Ram Group which bought INS Viraat as scrap.

Patel added that they had started the dismantling as the weight of the 28,223 ton-carrier has to be lessened before it can be pulled closer. “The ship is about 600 feet away from the shore right now,” he said.

While INS Viraat arrived at Alang about two months ago, officials of the Gujarat Maritime Board gave permission to dismantle it a month back, after a final inspection of the vessel, including by officials of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB). Officials said the fuel tanks of the carrier have been cleared of any residual fuel, old batteries have been removed, and checks been made for presence of any inflammable gases to rule out chances of fire or explosions when the ship is cut using gas torches.

INS Viraat was beached on September 28 at Alang at a formal ceremony attended by Union Minister of State, Shipping, Mansukh Mandaviya and Navy officers, after numerous attempts to convert the carrier into a museum failed. Commissioned in the British Navy in 1959 as HMS Hermes, INS Viraat was inducted into the Indian Navy in 1986-87.

In a last-ditch bid, a private company, Envitech Marine Consultants Pvt Ltd, offered to buy INS Viraat from the Shree Ram Group and convert it into a museum. However, the company could not procure a no-objection certificate from the Centre or reach a formal agreement with the shipbreaker.

When first beached, INS Viraat was around 3,000 ft from the shore. Since then, on high tides, it has been dragged closer, using diesel-powered winches. The next high tide is on Sunday.

Being a Naval ship, INS Viraat is more difficult to dismantle than a normal vessel. The carrier has a double hull made of steel plates which are thicker, and also has multiple smaller compartments. Patel said even winching it is harder. “Usually merchant vessels have a flat and saucer-shaped bottom. INS Viraat has a thin and aerodynamic design.” The Shree Ram Group expects to take a year to completely dismantle the carrier.

In 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had informed Parliament about the decision to scrap INS Viraat, saying no “self sustaining and financially complete” proposal had been found to preserve it. Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Goa governments had then expressed willingness to preserve the carrier and make it a museum.

INS Viraat is the second aircraft carrier to be broken in India in the last six years. In 2014, INS Vikrant, which played a crucial role in the 1971 Indo-Pak war, was dismantled in Mumbai.

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