INS Viraat, the Guinness record holder for being the longest-serving warship of the world, will arrive at the Alang ship-breaking yard in Gujarat in September, where it will be broken and sold as scrap.
One of the biggest ship recyclers at Alang — Shree Ram Group — has purchased the aircraft carrier, which served in the Indian Navy for 30 years.
“We received the delivery order for the ship today after making necessary payments. As per plan, it will reach Alang in the first week of September. Even if it gets delayed due to monsoon or other factors, it should be here by the end of September,” said Mukesh Patel, chairman of Shree Ram Group.
The company had also bought French aircraft carrier, Clemenceau, in 2005 to be dismantled at Alang. However, the French government recalled the ship mid-way after a controversy over the disposal of the ship’s asbestos.
Currently, the INS Viraat is at the Naval dockyard in Mumbai. Once capable of cruising at 28 knots with over 2,000 crew and officers onboard, the decommissioned warship will have to be towed to the ship breaking yard in the Gulf of Khambhat.
“We will need clearances from DG shipping too. The aircraft carrier will have to be towed to Alang and it would take about four days for the carrier to cover the distance between Mumbai and Alang (in Bhavnagar district),” Patel said. His company participated in the auction conducted by the state-owned Metal Scrap Trade Corporation Limited (MSTC).
This is the second aircraft carrier to be broken in India in the past six years. In 2014, INS Vikrant, which played a role in the historic 1971 war with Pakistan was broken down in Mumbai. In July 2019, the Modi government announced the decision to scrap INS Viraat in the Parliament.
The vessel could not be handed over to any state government because of lack of “self-sustaining financially complete” proposal to preserve it. The state governments of Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh had planned to preserve the aircraft carrier.
According to officials of the state-run Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB), this will be the biggest naval vessel to be broken at Alang. “We are yet to get an official intimation regarding the arrival of INS Viraat at Alang. If it beaches, it would be biggest naval warship to come to Alang,” said an official of GMB that overlooks the ship-breaking activities at the yard.
The 208.8-metre long vessel has a displacement of nearly 24,000 tonnes. Earlier, warships and supply vessels of the naval forces of the United Kingdom and New Zealand were broken at Alang.
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.
The aircraft carrier, which has been stripped of all equipment, including its main machinery, weapon systems, sensors, communication devices and life saving equipment, will be beaching at plot number 9 of the ship recycler.
“It will take between 8 to 10 months to completely dismantle the aircraft carrier. In the past we have dismantled two naval vessels belonging to the United Kindgom,” said Patel whose company has recycled around 250 ageing vessels.
The ship recycler said the aircraft carrier would cost him Rs 50 crore, which he plans to make up by selling the scrap culled from the vessel. “Some two-wheeler manufacturers have already contacted me for the scrap. They want to use the scrap from the ship for their individual branding,” Patel added.