The Government of India and Indian Navy have decided to tear down INS Virat, the world’s oldest serving aircraft carrier that carries much sentimental value for not just defence personnel, but defence and naval enthusiasts from across the country.
INS Viraat was the flagship of the Indian Navy before INS Vikramaditya was commissioned in 2013.
In what may come as heartbreaking news, Minister of State for Defence Shripad Naik today said the government, in consultation with the Indian Navy, has decided to scrap the British built aircraft carrier that was taken off service two years ago.
“Indian Navy has been incurring expenditure on the upkeep of INS Virat on the provision of services like electricity and water and repairs till date…in view of considerations of safety, security etc., a decision to scrap INS Virat has been taken in due consultation with Indian Navy,” he said.
The vessel saw action during Operation Parakram between India and Pakistan and during the Sri Lankan Peace Keeping operation.
The news is likely to be met with much anguish and disappointment, given that INS Vikrant, the other big warhorse of the old, met a similar fate.
INS Vikrant, which was decommissioned in the late 1990s, kept waiting for a rescuer for 17 years. By 2014, when it was clear that no state government would come forward with a concrete plan to rehabilitate the ship, the Navy was forced to scrap the ship.
Bajaj Auto has even named a motorcycle after the ship, claiming that it uses steel from the aircraft carrier in the manufacture of the bikes.
Virat was completed and commissioned in 1959 as the Royal Navy’s HMS Hermes, and decommissioned in 1984.
It was sold to India in 1987. INS Viraat was inducted into the Indian Navy on 12 May 1987.
It was the world’s oldest aircraft carrier when it was decommissioned in 2017 on the grounds that it was becoming too expensive to maintain.
Keeping a large ship like INR Virat floating requires the Navy to dedicate a premier berthing facility at a suitable port for same — something the organization is not willing to do on an extended basis, given the experience with INR Vikrant.
The Navy has already waited for two years for states like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra to come up with proposals to rehabilitate it.
Efforts by the Vishakapatanam Metro Region Development Authority to find investors to convert the ship into a museum could not find success due to the large investment required and the poor return expected.
This was followed by efforts by Maharashtra government to come up with a viable proposal to turn it into a museum-cum-adventure center at Sindhudurg at a cost of Rs 852 cr. The ship, currently in Mumbai, was supposed to offer sailing, scuba diving and maritime training facilities, besides usual museum facilities.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was supposed to gift it to the people of the state when he completes four years in office.
Shripad Naik, however, said all the proposals of the state governments had been found wanting.
“INS Virat could not be handed over to any State Government because of non-receipt of a self-sustaining financially complete proposal.”