OVER 18 months after the Navy decommissioned its oldest aircraft carrier, Viraat, the grand old lady, as she is often referred to, will now be developed into a commercial hub.
The Maharashtra government has won the bid to develop the aircraft carrier into a tourist spot in Sindhudurg district on public-private partnership basis. The estimated cost of the project is Rs 852 crore. Since 2016, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been trying to find a viable alternative for its iconic ship.
The state cabinet on Thursday cleared a proposal to convert Viraat into a commercial business complex, which will have a convention centre, a hotel, a wreck diving facility and a museum among others. The ship is also proposed to have a marine training facility.
An official told The Indian Express that according to the proposal submitted by the government to the MoD, the proposed Viraat museum would be constructed by laying concrete foundation in the sea. The location would be around seven nautical miles from the shore at Nivti rocks in Sindhudurg district.
Another official said that a high-powered committee, headed by state Chief Secretary D K Jain, has been set up to finalise the terms and conditions for tenders to select the private entrepreneur.
The state’s fiscal managers, in an official communication, said that the entire capital expenditure will be Rs 852 crore, including acquisition, transportation and breakwater, as well as other infrastructure charges worth Rs 303 crore. While the government has said that the private partner will bring in bulk of the required capital investment, it hasn’t ruled out incurring capital cost as a part of the viability gap funding.
“The MoD had proposed to gift the ship to any state government that was ready to bear the cost of converting it into a maritime museum. The ministry had made it clear that it will not fund them. Two states, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, had reverted with their proposals. AP was keen on converting it into a hotel-cum-museum but wanted the Centre to share the cost… the proposal was subsequently rejected,” said an official.
“After the AP project didn’t go the desired way, there were two schools of thought within the defence ministry. While one section proposed scrapping and selling off the vessel like erstwhile Vikrant, the others were of the view of of converting it into a dive site.”
In December 2014, a technical board was constituted to ascertain how long can the aircraft carrier remain fit to serve. Viraat is the oldest serving Indian naval ship, which was inducted into the Navy in May, 1987.
“The keel of the warship was laid in 1944. When Viraat was inducted into Navy, she had already served for 20 years in the Royal Navy and was fit to be used for another 10 years. However, the aircraft was in service for over 50 years. A normal shelf-life of a craft is a little over 25 years. The aircraft was scheduled to be decommissioned in 2009, but with INS Vikramaditya’s induction delayed, Viraat underwent a series of refits and nearing the limits of her mechanical life, she served the Navy until 2017,” another official said.
Currently, the Navy has only aircraft carriers in its fleet — INS Vikramaditya. It was formally inducted into Navy in June 2014 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In April, 1986 , then Congress government had entered into an agreement with Britain to acquire HMS Hermes for $ 63 million. After refits and new equipment being fitted on Hermes, it was commissioned at Plymouth as INS Viraat in 1987.
The ship holds the Guinness Books of record for being the longest serving warship of the world. Under the Indian flag, it had clocked more than 22,622 flying hours by various aircraft and spent nearly 2,252 days at sea sailing 10,94,215 km. This is equal to Viraat spending seven years at sea and traveling the entire globe 27 times. Since her inception, she has had a total of 80,715 hours of boiler running.
She had played a major role in the 1989 Operation Jupiter in Sri Lanka, after which she was affiliated with Garhwal Rifles and Scouts of the Army in 1990. She also participated in Operation Parkham in 2001-02, when India and Pakistan were engaged in a standoff post terror attack on the Parliament.
Like Viraat, there are five business complexes in the US — Intrepid at New York, Hornet at San Francisco, York Town at South Carolina, Lexington at Texas and Midway at Sandiago. The select members of the high-powered committee, along with experts, are likely to visit the two complexes, said an official.