Iconic aircraft carrier INS Viraat is all set to become history by the end of the year might be bidding adieu to the East Coast, but its master chief marine engineer TP Singh believes that the gigantic vessel still has several years of sailing left in her. Singh’s life is tied down to the Viraat like no other’s. The majestic looking aircraft carrier, which was commissioned into the Britain’s Royal Navy on November 18, 1959, as the HMS Hermes, was later reborn as the INS Viraat on May 12, 1987.
“I joined the Indian Navy on 11 February 1985 but left for the UK on December 1986 to be part of the aircraft carrier’s crew when it was commissioned on May 12, 1987, at Plymouth by then High Commissioner of India,” recalls Singh who has spent 23 of his 31 years in the Navy on the ship. “I had two breaks, one between 1992-95 when I was transferred to INS Shivaji, and another in Kochi between 2002-2005. I had also undergone training for some years. But then 23 years I have put in onboard the Viraat,” says Singh.
Like the Viraat, Singh will also bid farewell to Indian Navy on February 2017, once the aircraft carrier is decommissioned. “I have six years left, but then it is like getting into another ship and learning the technology all over again. My life is with the Viraat,” says Singh who hails from Lucknow. He says the maintenance of the Viraat is one of its biggest issues. “It is a very old aircraft carrier and difficult to get spares. We did face some issues with the boilers of the ship,” he recalls.
Singh has even penned a couple of poems hailing the Viraat and shares it with reporters. “It is the Indian Navy’s pride,” he says of the world’s only steam propelled aircraft carrier of the world. While the ship is likely to be converted into a docked museum for the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation, Punnet Chaddha, the commanding officer, told reporters that the ship is also affiliated to Garhwal Rifles —which boarded the aircraft carrier during Operation Jupiter in 1989.
The carrier battleship has a capacity for 30 aircraft. Currently, the aircraft carrier has six Sea Harriers, five Sea King helicopters and two Chetaks. As the ship fades into history, India will be left with only the INS Vikaramaditya as its lone aircraft carrier. But Chaddha says the indigenously built INS Vikrant would be commissioned in Kochi soon.