Dismantling of INS Viraat: An emotional tribute to sailors

Rutam Vora Ahmedabad | Updated on September 30, 2020 Published on September 30, 2020

Final goodbye Visitors on INS Viraat at Alang shipbreaking yard in Gujarat   -  Vijay Soneji

Every part of the warship carries memories of the sailors who did duty on it, says ship-recycler chief

“It’s a tribute to our sailor.” That’s how Mukeshbhai Patel, Chairman of the largest Indian ship-recycler Shree Ram Group, expressed his feelings when Indian Navy’s iconic INS Viraat arrived on Monday at the shores of Alang shipbreaking yard — the final port of call for the world’s longest-serving aircraft carrier.

Patel secured INS Viraat in an auction held in August this year following the Indian Navy decommissioning the aircraft carrier in March 2017, after over 30 years in service.

“We have dismantled over 200 ships so far, including naval ships from the British Navy. But when I bid for the auction of Viraat, it was my wish that we should get an Indian Navy ship to be dismantled here at Alang — first time in the history of this shipbreaking yard. It is a tribute to our soldiers, who spent days and nights in different circumstances on this ship. There are emotions attached to every piece of this ship,” Patel told BusinessLine.

On Monday, September 29, the Centaur-class aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy was beached about 3,000 feet off the Alang coast, from where it will be brought to the recycling plot of Shree Ram Group. “We are waiting for high tide when the water level will swell, and facilitate berthing of the ship at our plot. There are set guidelines before starting the dismantling process, which include removal of oils, hazardous chemicals, etc. After securing due permissions from the authorities, including the pollution control board, we will begin the process in about one or two months,” Patel said, adding that it would take nine to 12 months to completely dismantle the ship.

Also read: World’s longest-serving warship INS Viraat sails into the sunset

Patel has already started getting inquiries from prospective buyers for the items, ranging from metals, to cables, motors, panels, steel, wood and other scrap. “Since it is a warship, the steel used is of a high grade with special specifications. This ship will have huge quantity of such steel that can suite industry requirements. There are buyers like auto companies that want to use this steel to brand their products showing the connect with INS Viraat. But we have asked them to wait till the dismantling happens. It is premature to commit anything at this juncture,” Patel said.

The 22,600-tonne warship will see an army of 250-300 workers, including welders, technicians and labourers, working on it to dismantle every part carefully, preserving its value.

The arrival of INS Viraat at the Alang shipbreaking yard was marked by a celebration on Monday in the presence of Union Shipping Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, who paid his respects, calling the warship, “India’s pride that protected Indian waters with its unmatched prowess.”

He stated that a proposal to convert INS Viraat into a museum was considered at the highest level in the government, but due to its age — 70 years —and weakened ferrous structure, it is not expected to survive beyond 10 years. “Experts said it may not be safe beyond 10 years. So, we decided to send it for recycling,” Mandaviya told the gathering.

Also read: INS Viraat changeover into museum/hotel given in-principle nod: Sitharaman

The shipbreaking yard at Alang, located on the Southern coast of Saurashtra facing the Gulf of Cambay in Bhavnagar district, has been the ship recycling destination for vessels from across the globe since 1983.

But it was only recently that the hub became the official destination for warships to be dismantled. In October 2018, Mandaviya had declared the government’s intentions to make Alang an eco-friendly yard, where warships would be dismantled legally. The green yard was developed by the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) and the Alang Ship Recycling Yard Association.

Grand old lady’s royal journey

— Commissioned in the British Royal Navy in 1959 as HMS Hermes

— Sold to the Indian Navy in 1986

— Commissioned in the Indian Navy in May 1987 as INS Viraat

— Main air elements: Sea Harrier - White Tigers fighter jets; Harpoons - Anti-submarine helicopters, Commando Carrier helicopters, and Chetak - SAR helicopter

— Various aircraft have flown more than 22,000 hours from INS Viraat’s decks

— INS Viraat has spent 2,250 days at sea

— Travelled 5,88,288 nautical miles (equivalent to 10,94,215 km)

— Joined Operation Jupiter in 1989 — Indian Peace Keeping operations in Sri Lanka

— Deployed for Operation Vijay in Kargil War, 1999

— Conducted several international joint military exercises with the navies of the US, France and Oman

— Guinness record for being the oldest serving warship in the world

— Decommissioned from Indian Navy in March 2017

— Arrived at Alang shipbreaking yard on September 28, 2020

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Published on September 30, 2020
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