Iconic INS Viraat makes final journey to Alang ship breaking yard

On March 6, 2017, at 6.45 pm, the Indian Flag was lowered. Five minutes later, the commissioning pendant of the longest-serving aircraft carrier in the world was lowered onboard INS Viraat marking the end of a glorious tenure for the naval vessel that served for 56 years both the Royal Navy and the Indian Navy since it was commissioned in 1959. During its tenure, its commanding officers including admirals Madhvendra Singh, Arun Prakash, NK Verma and DK Joshi went on to head the navy.

On Saturday, after numerous pleas and offers to convert the iconic vessel into a naval museum went unheard, the ship was towed to the breaking yard at Alang in Bhavnagar in Gujarat. The ship was brought by Shree Ram Group for Rs 38.54 crore in an auction conducted by the Metal Scrap Trade Corporation Limited last month.

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Andy Trish, who joined the Royal Navy as a Naval airman in 1981 and served on INS Viraat, which was then HMS Hermes, termed the vessel’s journey memorable, and quipped in a lighter vein: “I would like to take her with me.”

Mark Shepherd, another British national who was posted on the ship as a 16-years-old during the Falkland War, wanted the ship to be turned into a museum for future generations.

David Campbell Bannerman, a former Member of the European Parliament, wrote to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking his intervention to postpone the auction till March. “Our plan would be to turn the ship back into INS Viraat form for key weeks in the UK so that the large Indian diaspora in the UK can attend events on board. This includes Republic Day in January and Diwali in autumn, and possibly Independence Day on 15th August,” Bannerman then told HT.

Bannerman, who was prepared to pay 5 million pounds, had said that he had been writing to Indian authorities since June 2019 but there been no response.

“INS Viraat could not be handed over to any state government because of non-receipt of a self-sustaining financially complete proposal. Thus, in view of considerations of safety, security etc, a decision to scrap INS Viraat has been taken in due consultation with the Indian Navy,” minister of state for defence Shripad Naik said in a written reply in Rajya Sabha in July 2019.

Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh had shown interest in turning the ship into a museum.

Many in the Indian Navy still want the ship to be turned into a museum.

“I want to try one last attempt to save #INSViraat Flag of India. Wud Reliance, TATA, Adani, Wipro, HCL, Mahindra, Uday Kotak, Poonawalla, Tech companies like Infosys consider contributing to a trust to preserve our history? I rqst my media friends to amplify this appeal,” Bharatiya Janata Party MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar tweeted.

Commissioned into the Royal Navy in November 1959, the vessel served the British for 27 years before being decommissioned in 1984. India then bought the vessel and named it INS Viraat. It was commissioned into the Indian Navy on May 12, 1987, and became its flagship.

Four Naval Air Squadrons operated out of the aircraft carrier to undertake anti-submarine, search and rescue operations, etc.

The vessel became a part of Operation Jupiter in July 1989 as part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka. It was last deployed for operational duty for the International Fleet Review in Vishakapatnam in February 2016.

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