Around 2.30 pm Monday, seven boats carrying iron ropes set sail some 3,000 feet away from the Alang shore to secure the 22,600-tonne INS Viraat that had beached a week after it set sail from Mumbai.
The Guinness record holder for being the longest-serving warship of the world was received at the Alang shipbreaking yard where it will settle in a space between an ageing oil rig and a container to be scrapped.
Union Shipping Minister Mansukh Mandaviya present at the shipyard said the Central government was prepared to spend Rs 500 crore for turning the naval vessel into a musuem, but the vessel’s hull had aged and could not survive beyond next 10-15 years.
“Before INS Viraat breathed its last, it was our aim to convert it into a museum. (Prime Minister Narendra) Modiji had asked me to study the vessel. We had long discussions with my ministry and the Navy and a committee was formed to see if it could be converted into a museum,” said Mandaviya who participated in a ceremony titled “Thank You Viraat” organised at plot number nine of Alang Shipbreaking yard. Mandaviya hails from Bhavnagar district.
On arrival from Mumbai teams from Customs department, AERB (Atomic Energy Regulatory Board) and Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) have already inspected the vessel.
“We were ready to make a special dock for the museum. We were ready to spend Rs 400-500 crore,” the minister said, adding that INS Viraat had aged after completing 30 years in Indian Navy and earlier serving the British Navy as HMS Hermes between 1959 and 84.
“When the report of the expert committee came, it stated that materials used inside the ship will not last long. It cannot survive beyond 10-15 years. If such a ship is diverted as a museum then in future some accident can happen,” said Mandaviya at the ceremony attended by state BJP leaders like state education minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, state women and child development minister Vibhavariben Dave.
The breaking down of the vessel will begin when high tide enables it to winched to the shore. This is expected to happen in the next couple of weeks, officials said.
Shree Ram Group is one of the biggest ship recyclers at Alang and has certified “green recycling yard” where over 300 ships have been broken.
In July 2019, the Modi government had informed the Parliament of its decision to scrap INS Viraat. The decision was taken after the vessel could not be handed over to any state government because of lack of “self-sustaining financially complete” proposal to preserve the vessel. The state governments of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh had proposed to preserve the aircraft carrier.
On Monday, Rear Admiral Puruvir Das, Flag Officer Commanding, Gujarat Naval Area was also present at the function at the plot belonging to Shree Ram Group of Industries — the firm that bought the vessel for Rs 38.54 crore from an auction.
“INS Viraat, which had served the country for several years and was retired in 2017, has reached its final destination,” said the minister about the aircraft carrier which was brought from mid-sea and beached 3,000 feet away from the coast. The tug which pulled Viraat from Mumbai was used to beach it on Monday. Over the next one month, the ship will be slowly brought closer to the beach using diesel-powered winches during high tide. Officials said once the vessel reaches the shore sometime next month, the breaking will begin, officials said.
“There will be another round of inspection by the Gujarat Maritime Board and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) before the breaking can begin. This inspection will take place once the ship is pulled to the shore,” an official from Shree Ram Group told The Indian Express.
“If you go to England and visit their museum, you will see the ship that sailed for 100 years and was made in India is preserved as a museum there,” said Mandaviya adding the Modi government will make early preparations to ensure that vessels that retire from the Navy are preserved in the future. Viraat has sailed almost 11 lakh km which is equivalent to travelling the globe 27 times, the minister said. The warship was deployed for Sri Lankan Peace Keeping Force operations in 1969 and Operation Parakaram following the 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament.
Speaking on the occasion, Rear Admiral Das said, “It is a very momentous day for all of us in the white uniform, because there are thousands of sailors who have served on INS Viraat. We have got a lot of expertise and experience which we are currently implementing on INS Vikramaditya and we will be ready for the next aircraft carrier INS Vikrant which is being built in Kochi…”
Once capable of cruising at 28 knots with over 2,000 crew and officers onboard, INS Viraat is second aircraft carrier to be broken in India in the last six years. In 2014, INS Vikrant, which played a role in the historic 1971 war with Pakistan, was broken down in Mumbai.
Originally commissioned by the British Navy as HMS Hermes on November 18, 1959, the aircraft carrier had taken part in the Falkland Islands war in 1982. India bought the British carrier in 1986 and rechristened it as INS Viraat. Under the Indian flag, the ship that could carry 24 aircraft, including fighter jets and helicopters, clocked more than 22,622 flying hours and spent 2,252 days at sea sailing 5.88 lakh nautical miles which is almost equivalent to covering the globe 27 times. It was decommissioned on March 2017.
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