Viraat farewell for world’s longest serving aircraft carrier
The Navy has planned a series of farewell ceremonies to mark the formal decommissioning of aircraft carrier INS Viraat after 30 years of service on March 6 in Mumbai. Indian sailors, including even retired ones, who served on this ship will be part of the ceremony. Navy chief of the United Kingdom and some officers who were associated with the ship when it was part of Royal Navy, will also be part of the emotional farewell.
The fate of the ship post-retirement is uncertain as plans to turn it into a museum are yet to be finalised. The Andhra Pradesh Government had offered to take the ship, but talks with the Defence Ministry are yet inconclusive. The cost of converting the ship into a museum is more than Rs1,000 crore.
Giving details of the string of send-off events, officials said on Wednesday that UK Navy chief, known there as First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones and 15 British Navy personnel will attend farewell dinner and related activities. Indian Navy men will also gather in Mumbai for two-day for festivities like ‘bada khana(community dinner)’. The crew of INS Viraat will have breakfast on March 7 on the ship 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.
On the future of the 28,000 tons, 745 feet long, and 160 feet wide ships operated by a crew of 1,500, officials said talks between the Defence Ministry and Andhra Pradesh Government are on. The Navy will maintain the carrier till a decision is taken.
India’s first aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, decommissioned in mid 1990s, could not find any takers for converting it into a museum. The Government finally sent the ship to scrap yard. Sources said the Defence Ministry had invited all the littoral states to take the ship, but the Andhra Government was the only one to respond. Sharing of cost for converting the ship into a museum was proving to be a hindrance, they said.
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 nearly three billion dollars. The indigenously designed INS Vikrant, now under construction as Cochin Shipyard, is likely to be operational by the end of 2019.
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