INS Viraat, India’s soon-to-be-decommissioned aircraft carrier, reached Mumbai on Friday. She was towed away by three tugs from the shores of Kochi this week amid emotional seamen who bade her a final bye. In Mumbai, she will be decommissioned in January next year. INS Viraat holds a world record as the longest serving warship. The Centaur-Class aircraft carrier was operational with the Indian Navy for 29 years from 1987. Before that, she was in the British Royal Navy’s fleet from 1959 as HMS Hermes.
“The defence personnel in the Navy develop a close bond with the ships. This is peculiar to the Navy. While the Army and Air Force personnel are transferred to various defence bases, the Naval personnel are stationed on ships. The ship is where they are housed. They develop a bond with her. She is a living entity for them. There is a long, sentimental association with her. It is never easy to say bye to her. And it is all the more difficult when it comes to something as iconic as INS Viraat. She signified a glorious period for our Navy, and has a place of pride,” a Commodore said.
INS Viraat operated Sea Harrier, Seaking 42B, Seaking 42C and Chetak as the main air elements. She played crucial role in Operation Jupiter, Operation Parakram and Operation Vijay, under the Indian flag. Under the British flag, her contribution during the Falklands war of 1982 is etched in history.
The Indian Naval officials spoke of the glory INS Viraat brought to the country’s naval prowess after her induction.
“Being the aircraft carrier, she was the crowning glory of Indian Navy. Her induction invigorated us. The entire fleet operations took a paradigm shift after she entered. She brought an upswing in the Navy’s fortune. She was the centrepiece in the kingpin of naval operations. Anybody who has served in the Navy for over 30 years has had a strong association with her. You needn’t have boarded her to have that connect. When she was inducted, we had gone to welcome her, and we virtually felt on top of the world. We felt proud of being on the frontline ships,” a Commodore said, fondly recollecting the days when the huge warship was inducted in our country’s Naval fleet. She was inducted in the Indian Navy in May 1987.
This week, after undergoing a decommissioning refit, she started her last journey towards Mumbai with the help of three tugs. She had travelled to Kochi on her own steam for the last time in July this year. At the Cochin Shipyard, she was stripped of her weapons, propulsion systems, auxiliary and communication equipment and radars. “Whatever could have been salvaged, has been salvaged according to the procedure,” an official said.
“The process is called ‘Emergency Repair Dry Dock’. When a ship is to be decommissioned, all her undewater openings are to be closed. These openings are for discharge of water, and for the engines that are working. All those openings are to be planked. For that, she has to be moved to a dry dock. For a ship as big as INS Viraat, only the Kochi port has such a huge dry dock. Viraat had undergone many refits at Kochi itself. This is the last time she came here. After planking, she could not go back on her own power. So she was towed away with the help of three tugs. She was given a befitting farewell by the Chief of Staff Real Admiral R.J. Nadkarni. A band and a guard of honour paid respect to her. Over 150 personnel bid her farewell,” an official present during the ceremony said.
The Kochi dockyard is around three km inside the coastline, in the backwater channel. The ships have to travel in the channel to enter the dockyard. When INS Viraat was being towed away, civilians and Naval officials dotted the three km coastline to bid her an emotional bye. The gunners held placards, saying goodbye to her. “But she will take birth again as the next Viraat. The bell and other significant machinery will be refitted in the new ship. The symbiotic association will continue,” an officer said.