The Maharashtra state cabinet on Thursday cleared the decks for the Navy’s longest-serving aircraft carrier, INS Viraat, now retired, to be converted into India’s first-ever moored maritime museum-cum-marine adventure centre.
Over 18 months after the Navy decommissioned its oldest aircraft carrier, Viraat, the grand old lady, as she is often referred to, will now be developed into a commercial hub. The estimated cost of the project is Rs 852 crore including infrastructure, transportation and as well as other infrastructure charges worth Rs 303 crore. Since 2016, the Ministry of Defence has been trying to find a viable alternative for its iconic ship. The ship’s conversion will be on public-private-partnership (PPP) basis.
The ship is the world’s oldest aircraft carrier, according to the Indian Navy, which bought it in 1986 and recommissioned it a year later. At present, Viraat is at Mumbai’s Naval dockyard after its decommissioning in 2017. Proposal to convert Viraat into a commercial business complex, which will have a convention centre, a hotel, a wreck diving facility and a museum among others. The ship is also proposed to have a marine training facility.
An official told The Indian Express that according to the proposal submitted by the government to the MoD, the proposed Viraat museum would be constructed by laying the concrete foundation in the sea. The location would be around seven nautical miles from the shore at Nivti rocks in Sindhudurg district.
Another official said that a high-powered committee, headed by state Chief Secretary D K Jain, has been set up to finalise the terms and conditions for tenders to select the private entrepreneur.
“The MoD had proposed to gift the ship to any state government that was ready to bear the cost of converting it into a maritime museum. The ministry had made it clear that it will not fund them. Two states, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, had reverted with their proposals. AP was keen on converting it into a hotel-cum-museum but wanted the Centre to share the cost… the proposal was subsequently rejected,” said an official.
“After the AP project didn’t go the desired way, there were two schools of thought within the defence ministry. While one section proposed scrapping and selling off the vessel like erstwhile Vikrant, the others were of the view of converting it into a dive site.”
“The keel of the warship was laid in 1944. When Viraat was inducted into Navy, she had already served for 20 years in the Royal Navy and was fit to be used for another 10 years. However, the aircraft was in service for over 50 years. A normal shelf-life of a craft is a little over 25 years. The aircraft was scheduled to be decommissioned in 2009, but with INS Vikramaditya’s induction delayed, Viraat underwent a series of refits and nearing the limits of her mechanical life, she served the Navy until 2017,” another official said.
- Congress government had entered into an agreement with Britain to acquire HMS Hermes for $ 63 million in April 1986. After refits and new equipment being fitted on Hermes, it was commissioned at Plymouth as INS Viraat in 1987.
- She had played a major role in the 1989 Operation Jupiter in Sri Lanka, after which she was affiliated with Garhwal Rifles and Scouts of the Army in 1990.
- She participated in Operation Parkham in 2001-02, when India and Pakistan were engaged in a standoff post-terror attack on the Parliament.
- Under the Indian flag, it had clocked more than 22,622 flying hours by various aircraft and spent nearly 2,252 days at sea sailing 10,94,215 km. This is equal to Viraat spending seven years at sea and travelling the entire globe 27 times. Since her inception, she has had a total of 80,715 hours of boiler running.
- The ship holds the Guinness Books of record for being the longest-serving warship of the world.