India to scrap veteran aircraft carrier Viraat

Image: Indian Navy
Image: Indian Navy – INS Viraat in 2016

The Indian government has decided to sell the decommissioned aircraft carrier INS Viraat for scrapping after efforts to preserve the vessel as a floating museum fell through due to lack of funds.

The 26,000-tonne Viraat, formerly the Royal Navy Centaur-class aircraft carrier HMS Hermes, has been docked in Mumbai since its March 2017 decommissioning as the country’s government deliberated on the vessel’s eventual fate.

Over time, the rising cost of upkeep and repairs convinced the Ministry of Defence to cancel its plans of converting the vessel into a museum ship to be located near Nivati in the state of Maharashtra.

British businessman and former Royal Navy sailor Andy Trish, who had once served on Hermes, has told the Plymouth Herald that he is currently planning to raise £20 million (US$25 million) as a scrap bid as a “completely private venture” but with “political assistance” from the UK government to tow the carrier to the UK and have it turned into a museum ship.

A crowdfunding campaign that had been launched earlier by Trish to raise £100,000 (US$125,000) for Viraat‘s preservation was ultimately declared unsuccessful after it had managed to raise only less than a tenth of its target amount.

Indian junior defence minister Shripad Naik meanwhile said that, in the absence of a “self-sustaining, financially complete proposal” for preserving the ship, the decision was made in consultation with the navy to scrap the veteran aircraft carrier that had served India for 30 years.

Originally laid down in June 1944 as the final one of four completed Centaur-class carriers (Four of the eight carriers ordered were ultimately cancelled.), Hermes remained unfinished at the end of World War II as construction was suspended just months after it began. Work resumed on the vessel in 1952 but was not completed until 1957.

The carrier entered service with the Royal Navy in 1959 and had undergone several modifications over the years, including a ski jump for launching Sea Harrier short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) jet fighter aircraft. It saw combat only once, when it operated as the British forces’ flagship during the 1982 Falklands War.

Hermes was sold to the Indian Navy in 1986 and was recommissioned as Viraat (“Giant”) the following year. In Indian service, the ship again underwent several upgrades but was not known to have been used in combat.

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