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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

INS Vikrant, the glorious ship sold and to be scrapped ... !!

Alang is a small town in Bhavnagar district in Gujarat….it is on the coast and is known Worldwide for its yards, not exceptionally state of art, mostly manual ….yet something associated with big work ! ~ it is on the  Gulf of Khambat, (formerly known as the Gulf of Cambay), an inlet of the Arabian Sea that  divides the Kathiawar peninsula.   

This post is about a vessel that served Indian Navy gloriously ~ one which was first ordered to be ‘HMS Hercules’  by the Royal Navy.  She was laid down in Nov  1943 on the River Tyne; launched in Sept 1945 ~ bought by India in 1957, modified and served the Indian Navy gloriously.  It is the famous ‘INS Vikrant’ [another ship – an aircraft carrier by the same was launched in 2013] …. Vikrant was commissioned into the Indian Navy by then Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ms Vijayalakshmi Pandit in Mar 1961 in Belfast. The name Vikrant was taken from Sanskrit vikrānta meaning "stepping beyond", i.e. "courageous" or "bold". Captain Pritam Singh was the first commanding officer of the carrier.
Vessel once seen at Mumbai

In the 1971 War with Pakistan, Vikrant was stationed off the Andaman & Nicobar Islands along with frigates, INS Brahmaputra and INS Beas; and was redeployed towards Chittagong.  On the morning of 4 December 1971, Vikrant’s eight Sea Hawk aircraft launched an air raid on Cox’s Bazar from 60 nautical miles (110 km) offshore. On the evening of 4 December, the air group struck Chittagong Harbour. Later strikes targeted Khulna and Port of Mongla. A Press Trust of India report of 4 December read, “Chittagong harbour ablaze as ships and aircraft of the Eastern Naval Fleet bombed and rocketed. Not a single vessel can be put to sea from Chittagong.” Air strikes continued until 10 December 1971 with not a single Sea Hawk lost.

The Pakistan Navy deployed the submarine Ghazi to specifically target and sink Vikrant. However, Ghazi sank off Visakhapatnam harbour, due to attacks by INS Rajput. During the war, the crew of Vikrant earned aircraft carrier is in news sadly. After a distinguished service, she was decommissioned in January 1997; was preserved as a museum ship in Cuffe Parade, Mumbai, until it was closed in 2012 due to safety concerns. Now there are reports that Vikrant has been sold through an online auction to an Alang ship-breaker, and is now berthed off Bhavnagar undergoing preparations to be broken up. The vessel according to newspaper reports has been sold at Rs.60 crore.  

Earlier, the Maharashtra government had expressed its inability to maintain Vikrant; and reports suggested that the condition of the ship had deteriorated and could not be converted into a museum.  In January 2014, during the hearing of a public interest litigation which opposed the plan to scrap the ship, the Union ministry of defence told the Bombay high court that it had completed its operational life; the Maharashtra government stated that to preserve it as a museum would not be viable financially.  The high court subsequently dismissed the PIL.

The Hindu reports that the Navy sold the iconic INS Vikrant to a ship-breaking company here for Rs. 63.2 crore. The decommissioned aircraft carrier is now the property of IB Commercial Private Ltd and could be moved out for its funeral voyage in a fortnight or less.  The buyer reportedly plans to scrap it at the Darukhana ship-breaking yard in Alang. A Defence Ministry source is quoted as stating that the deal was in the nation’s interest and that the option of converting Vikrant into a museum was not economically viable as it would have cost around Rs. 500 crore.  Moreover, the berthing-space constraints at the Mumbai harbour will ease a bit with Vikrant being moved out. Around 700 feet of space will be liberated and this will facilitate navigation of naval vessels in the channel, it is stated. 
Photo credit: The Hindu

The sight of a very large vessel floating on water, carrying goods from one place to another offers imagination beyond dreams. But just as most things have a shelf life, ships also have a limited span of life. Depending upon the type of vessel and nature of goods carried, generally after 25-30 years ships are at the end of their sailing life. These vessels who have outlived its existence are sold and dismantled to recover the valuable steel. A very major % of the vessel consists of steel which can be rerolled besides valuable machinery such as generators, marine engines etc., There are various other miscellaneous material as well.

Ships are launched in big ceremonies and ceremonially named. Ships like INS Vikrant have a rich history and glorious past – still some day fate catches up.  Every year hundreds of vessels are taken out of service and sold for scrapping. Asia has emerged as a big market for scrap. Ship breaking or ship demolition is a type of ship disposal involving the breaking up of ships for scrap recycling, with the hulls being discarded in ship graveyards. So, one day, this monumental ship too would be cut into pieces by men, who may never understand its glory ….it will have to bear the pangs of hammer, tongs and gas cutting and would go down without much of trace.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

9th Apr 2014.

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