The ship-breaking firm from Alang — Shree Ram Group — which bought INS Viraat from an auction and took it for dismantling last week has demanded Rs 100 crore from a Mumbai-based company that is making a last-ditch attempt to save the historic aircraft carrier and convert it into a museum.
“The company from Mumbai wants to buy the ship from us. I told them that I am a patriot, too, and I do not have a problem if they want to salvage the historic ship. But because I bought this in scrap, you will have to produce an NOC (No-objection-certificate) from the Government of India. I do not want anyone to allege in future that I was involved in a scam,” Mukesh Patel, chairman of Shree Ram Group, told The Indian Express.
“Secondly, I do not want to see the company’s credit worthiness. I have told them that I will need Rs 125 crore for the ship, but I do not mind giving it to them at Rs 100 crore if they can refloat the vessel at their own cost and risk. I will hand the ship over to them as soon as my bank informs me that Rs 100 crore has been deposited in my account,” said Patel adding that he has shared his banking account details with Envitech Marine Consultants Pvt Ltd, which announced Tuesday that it wants to convert the ship into a museum.
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Director Operations, Envitech Marine Consultants Private Limited, Vishnu Kant Sharma, told The Indian Express that he met Patel in Bhavnagar about a fortnight ago and their negotiations were under way. He said that they had received a letter of willingness from the Goa government on September 20, to berth the vessel in the state, should they acquire it from the Shree Ram Group, that bagged the tender issued by the Metal Scrap Trade Corporation Limited (MSTC) for scrapping the decommissioned aircraft carrier.
“We are just doing it out of patriotism and there is no commercial angle in this. We could not bid for the scrap tender because our company was not registered in India and we were not interested in buying the vessel under the scrap tender because those conditions cannot be modified to turn it into a museum…,” Sharma said. He said in July, 2019, they registered their company that operated mainly out of Dubai, in India with the sole objective of buying INS Viraat to turn it into a museum. Envitech Marine Consultants Private Limited has since had a registered office in Nerul, Navi Mumbai.
Sharma said that they had received a letter from the Chief Minister of Goa, Pramod Sawant in response to their email of September 4 requesting the state government to give an NOC to the MoD for berthing INS Viraat in Goa and turning it into a museum and a tourist centre.
“After examining the proposal, it is understood that the proposal requires to be studied in detail considering the likely environment impact it can have, given its size and tonnage. However, considering its potential to be a unique attraction from tourism perspective, the state government has no objection in having the aircraft carrier in its waters subject to the following…”
The letter then listed four conditions that the MoD must agree to the proposal made by the Envitech Marine Consultants Pvt Limited, that all statutory and other regulatory clearances must be obtained following due process, that the state government should have no financial obligation and that the revenue sharing formula should be approved by the state government.
On July 30, Rupali Sharma, the director of the firm received an acknowledgment to their letter of July 21, 2020 from PK Suresh, Additional Private Secretary to the Minister of State for Defence. It stated, “This is in acknowledgment to your letter dated 21st July, 2020, regarding converting INS Viraat into a museum. You are requested to resubmit your proposal as per discussion held during last meeting held at RRM office.”
According to sources, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) will have to consider a number of aspects before granting the No-Objection Certificate (NOC). If there is a change in the execution of the contract, either the Shree Ram Group or the Goa government will have to approach the MoD, they said. The MoD has already considered various proposals to convert INS Viraat into a museum and will have to reassess the viability, sustainability, safety and environmental aspects of executing such a proposal, the sources added.
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INS Viraat, which weighs more than 23,000 tonnes was beached on September 28 at the Alang ship-breaking yard in Bhavnagar. It is currently 3,000 feet away from the shore and has been secured by the ship-breaker using iron ropes that are attached to diesel powered winches.
“The vessel can refloat and can be towed back. It has not suffered any damage,” said Patel. The sea bed at Alang consists mostly of soft clay and so the chances of the base of the ship getting damaged due to rocks jutting out of the seabed is less.
The Shree Ram Group bought the aircraft carrier from an auction conducted by Metal Scrap Trade Corporation Limited (MSTC) for Rs 38.54 crore. However, the ship-breaker had earlier told The Indian Express that the cost incurred would be Rs 50 crore by the time the vessel is towed to Alang from Mumbai.
The ship-breaker was in the process of bringing INS Viraat closer to the shore for breaking. On September 28, the Shree Ram Group organised a formal event — Thank You Viraat — to pay homage to the aircraft carrier. It was attended by Union shipping minister Mansukh Mandaviya who said that the Modi government decided to scrap the vessel only after a committee of experts that studied the ship opined that the aircraft carrier, if converted into a museum, will not survive more than 10-15 years as its hull had started deteriorating and was prone to accidents.
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