NEW DELHI: In order to bid adieu INS Viraat that served nation for over three decades, Indian navy has planned series of farewell ceremonies on March 6 in Mumbai. Indian sailors, retired and serving, who served on this ship will be part of the ceremony besides UK Navy chief and some officers who were associated with the ship when it was part of Royal Navy. In absence of any uncertain plans to turn the warship into a museum, sources in the navy have apprehensions of being sold as scrap. Last year, Andhra Pradesh government had offered to take the 28,000 tons, 745 feet long, 160 feet wide and operated by a crew of 1,500 ship, but talks with the defence ministry are yet inconclusive. The cost of converting the ship into a museum is more than Rs 1,000 crore.
Sharing details of the string of send-off events lined up, officials said here on Wednesday, UK Navy chief, known there as First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones and 15 British navy personnel will take part in the ceremonies like dinner and related activities. The Indian personnel will also converge on Mumbai for two-day festivities like ‘bada khana(community dinner)’and the present crew of INS Viraat will have breakfast on March 7 before the ship becomes part of history.
Before induction into the Indian Navy in 1987, the UK built carrier then known as HMS Hermes had taken part in the Falkland war with Argentina in the late 1970s. Jones had taken part in that war but was then serving a stint with HMS Fearless, a destroyer. The other UK personnel scheduled to be part of the ceremony are members of Hermes Association. All of them had served on the aircraft carrier which was part of the Royal Navy for 28 years before India procured it and rechristened it INS Viraat. It has earned the distinction of the longest serving aircraft carrier in the world with more than 58 years of operations.
Explaining the significance of UK Navy’s participation, officials said Britain has not undertaken a naval combat campaign since the Falkland war in which the aircraft carrier played a key role. In this backdrop, Royal Navy has a deep emotional connect with INS Viraat, they added.
India’s first aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, decommissioned in mid 1990s, could not find any takers for converting into a museum and the government finally sent the ship to scrap yard.
Once INS Viraat finally bids adieu, the Navy will be left with lone aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya inducted into service in 2013. The Russian built carrier earlier known as Gorshkov was refurbished as per Indian specifications at a cost of more than three billion dollars. The indigenously designed carrier INS Vikrant now under construction as Cochin Shipyard is likely to be operational by the end of 2019.