MUMBAI/ALANG: Decommissioned aircraft carrier Viraat has been beached at Alang in Gujarat for scrapping, but a company is making last-ditch efforts to salvage the symbol of India's rich maritime heritage.
An official of the company said it has reached an understanding with the Shree Ram Group which bought the iconic warship for Rs 38.54 crore in an auction conducted by the Metal Scrap Trade Corporation Limited.
A top management figure of the Group said it is ready to hand over Viraat to the company at a cost after the Defence Ministry changes the ship's title from "scrap" to "preserve".
"While key political leaders, including those in Delhi and Goa are fully supportive of our patriotic endeavour to preserve the country's maritime legacy by turning it into a museum, some bureaucrats are hindering the proposal," the company official told PTI.
The company, Envitech Marine Consultants Pvt Ltd, plans to convert Viraat into a maritime museum in Goa, its Managing Director Rupali Sharma said.
She said Minister of State for Defence Shripad Naik and Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant are fully supportive of the plan.
"Sawant wrote to Naik last week seeking necessary permissions from the MoD for turning Viraat into a museum and tourist centre," she said.
An official from Naik's office said the minister wants the ship to be saved from being dismantled and sold as scrap.
Mukesh Patel, Chairman of Shree Ram Group, told PTI that he will sell the ship if the company produces NOC from the Ministry of Defence.
V K Sharma, Director Operations of Envitech Marine Consultants Pvt Ltd, said, "Mukeshbhai is a patriot like me and has agreed to sell the ship to me if I produce an NOC from Ministry of Defence.
"As the ship was sold to him as scrap, we can't buy it without the NOC to convert it into a museum," Sharma said.
"We are in talks with the Goa government to berth the ship-museum on its shore. It will be a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) project," he said.
Sharma said the firm was originally operating from Dubai, but was registered in India as only Indian firms are allowed to buy such ships.
"Our decision is driven only by patriotism and love for my country. I am not doing it for money. I am following up the NOC matter with MoD for last one week and I am confident that I will get the no objection certificate very soon to buy the ship and convert it into a museum," he said.
The CBI had last year hired Envitech to recover weapons from the Thane creek as part of the Narendra Dabholkar murder investigation monitored by the High Court.
Many in the Indian Navy want the ship to be turned into a museum.
"India Inc to the rescue? Understand pvt party has undertaken to convert Viraat into maritime memorial/museum at own expense & obtained approval of Goa govt to park her in Zuari River. Race against time for MoD approval before ship is permanently beached on 30th Sep." tweeted former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd).
"Off Alang, the forlorn, but still majestic, carrier is a moving sight, for all of us. But far more soul-stirring for VAdm Vinod Pasricha, the Captain who saw her through conversion in the UK and then commissioned her as INS Viraat and sailed her triumphantly home in 1987!" he added.
David Campbell Bannerman, a British Conservative Party politician who served as Member of the European Parliament, tweeted, "It would be wonderful news if the former HMS Hermes/INS Viraat can now be preserved as a naval museum at the 11.59th hour.
It is the oldest serving warship in the world according to @GWR and is very dear to both of our great nations, to us as the Falklands War Flagship."
Viraat, the worlds longest serving warship that was decommissioned by the Indian Navy three years ago, arrived at Alang in Gujarat from Mumbai last week for dismantling.
It is the second aircraft carrier slated to be broken down in India.
In 2014, INS Vikrant was dismantled in Mumbai.
The 70-year-old aircraft carrier, in its earlier avatar, had won the Falklands War against Argentina in 1982 for the Royal British Navy.
It weighs about 27,800 tonnes and served the British Navy as HMS Hermes from November 1959 to April 1984 and after refurbishment, was commissioned into the Indian Navy in 1987.
The vessel, which was anchored around seven nautical miles from Alang, was towed and beached on Monday during the high tide.