A last-ditch effort is underway to save INS Viraat, India’s longest-serving warship that has reached Alang ship breaking yard for scrapping and will be permanently beached on September 30.
A Mumbai-based company, named Envitech Marine Consultants Pvt Limited, has come forward to convert the ship into a maritime museum that will be docked in the Zuari river in Goa. The Goa government has come on board for the project and written to the Ministry of Defence in this regard.
Vishnu Kant, the director of operations at Envitech, said a warship that served India proudly for 30 years and the British Navy for 25 years does not deserve such a cruel end.
“My father was in the Navy. The entire country’s sentiment is attached with INS Viraat. We have been trying for months to work on a public-private-partnership (PPP) model to save the warship and convert it into a museum. Promises were made but nothing happened. Now we are saying we do not want anything from the government except a no-objection certificate (NOC). We will put in all the money,” he said.
However, the ship has already been sold by the government to the highest bidder — Shree Ram Group in Alang. The owner of the shipyard, Mukesh Patel, said he will be happy not to scrap down a ship that carries such a rich maritime history. But under rules, he cannot sell a ship that has come for scrapping for any other purpose.
Hence, he will need an NOC from the MoD and Ministry of Steel before he can agree to sell it to Envitech. The process of scrapping a ship takes nine months to a year. INS Viraat is 3,000 km from the shore and the dismantling process is scheduled to start in the next one-and-a-half months.
Alang, the graveyard of ships, scraps 280 ships every year from across the world. However, this is the first time a warship has been brought in for its final rites.
“I am a patriot. I brought the ship out of national pride. Otherwise, no one in Alang before this has dealt with a warship. Nothing would make me happier than to see INS Viraat being converted into a museum and inspire a whole new generation,” said Patel.
Patel who brought INS Viraat for Rs 38.54 crore, said he has paid an additional Rs 12 crore in GST, followed by the cost of transporting the ship from Mumbai to Alang.
Kant said he is willing to pay the amount — Rs 60 crore — Patel is asking for, adding that he has the expertise and resources to convert the ship into a museum.
“We have run from pillar to post to save INS Viraat. We have approached every bureaucrat concerned in the MoD to obtain an NOC to convert the title from scrap to preserve. But we haven’t succeeded so far. We are running out of time. The ship will be permanently beached on September 30,” he said.
The longest-serving warship in the world, INS Viraat was decommissioned three years ago after over three decades of service. Since then efforts have been on to save it from the fate that INS VIKRANT had met — dismantled in Bombay in 2014.
No corporate house was willing to put in the money for a museum. States like Goa, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh had shown interest but intentions did not travel far enough to save the ship.
But that was not the only problem. Union Shipping Minister Mansukh Mandaviya, at an event to bid adieu to the warship, said the government was willing to spend Rs 400-500 crore on the museum project, but experts warned the ship would not last for more than 10 years.
INS Viraat was originally commissioned by the British Royal Navy as HMS Heremes on November 18, 1959, and saw action during the Falklands War in 1982. In 1986, the Indian Navy brought it and since then it has been its centerpiece, sailing 5,88,287 nautical miles.
This means it has spent seven years in sea, circumnavigating the globe 27 times. The Navy is hoping its ‘Mother’ can be saved from an undignified end.