The Supreme Court of India today passed an order staying the dismantling of INS Viraat, the decommissioned aircraft carrier of Indian navy. A three-judge Bench of Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian issued to order to keep the status quo on the demolition of the vessel, which was brought to Alang Ship Breaking yard in Gujarat in September last year by a scrap dealer.
The judgement was passed following a petition by a company called Envitech Marine Consultants Private Limited, offering to preserve it and convert it into a museum. The Company has proposed to convert the hull into a maritime museum and multi-functional adventure centre.
However, this order may not be the cause for conservationists to rejoice, as demetallation of the ship has already begun at the yard. Reports last month had stated that around 30% dismantling work of INS Viraat had been completed and the entire vessel would be dismantled in nine months. Mukesh Patel, Chairman of the Shree Ram Group, which bought the ship at an auction in July last year for Rs 38.54 crore, had told media that the firm began the dismantling process in December 2020.
Photographs of the dismantled ship that have appeared on social media show that the ski-ramp of the carrier has already been removed, and the dismantling process of the deck is well under process. The images show that not just the upper deck, but the process of dismantling even the lower decks have also started, and the superstructure of the hull also have been dismantled to a significant extent. This shows that it will be almost impossible to restore it back to preserve it, and even if that is done, it will be very costly.
It may be noted that after the ship was decommissioned in March 2017, several organisations have demanded it to be converted into a museum instead of dismantling it. In November 2018, the Maharashtra government had approved the conversion of Viraat into India’s first moored maritime museum and marine adventure centre. But it didn’t attract any tender due to high cost of the project.
An expert committee appointed to study the feasibility of preserving the ship had ruled that it will not be viable due to the structural deterioration of the ship. The committee was formed on the advice of PM Narendra Modi, who also wanted to preserve the ship. But when the committee said in its report that the ship won’t survive beyond 10-15 years due to extensive deterioration of the metal used in the ship, the central government had decided to scrap the same.
In July 2020, Gujarat-based company Shri Ram Shipping had purchased the ship from the Metal Scrap Corporation for ₹38.54 crore. In September, the ship was towed from Mumbai to Alang in Gujarat, where the dismantling began in December. In the meantime, Envitech Marine Consultants had offered to buy the ship from Shri Ram Shipping to convert it to a museum, but the deal didn’t materialise.
INS Viraat had started as HMS Hermes of the Royal Navy of the UK in the year 1959, and it was decommissioned in 1984. After that, it was purchased by India, and the carrier was commissioned into the Indian Navy in 1987. Therefore, although the ship served with Indian Navy for 30 years, it is actually more than 62 years old.