‘Keen to see it destroyed’: Centre rejects firm’s bid to preserve aircraft carrier Viraat as maritime museum

The shipbreaking firm which bought the decommissioned warship was willing to sell it to group that wanted to saveit from being scrapped, but the govt has refused to issue a no-objection certificate

Photo Courtesy: Social Media
Photo Courtesy: Social Media

NH Web Desk

The Ministry of Defence has formally rejected an eleventh-hour plan to try and save Viraat, the former Indian Navy aircraft carrier, from being broken up for scrap by a shipbreaker in Gujarat. Ironically, the rejection letter reached the firm planning to acquire the ship and convert it into a maritime museum parked off the coast of Goa on December 4, Navy Day, a day when Indian Navy celebrates its history and fighting traditions.

Acquired from the United Kingdom in 1986 after an extensive refit, the INS Viraat came to define Indian Naval power with its fleet of Sea Harrier fighter jets. Before that, Viraat had served as HMS Hermes in the Royal Navy and played a decisive role in the 1982 Falkland Islands conflict when the UK went to war against Argentina in the South Atlantic. A key part of that legacy now seems doomed.

As per an NDTV report, in its response to a direction from Bombay High Court to clarify its position, the Ministry stated, "The request of the petitioner for grant of NOC (No Objection Certificate) to convert the status of Ex-Viraat cannot be acceded to."

The Ministry claims that Shree Ram Group of Industries, the Alang-based shipbreakers which bought the decommissioned warship from the Indian Navy for scrap, is opposed to its sale. As per a report carried by The Financial Express in October, the retired warship was bought by this firm for Rs 38.54 crore in an auction.

However, in a statement to NDTV in September, Mukesh Patel, the firm’s managing director had repeatedly stated that he was willing to sell the warship to the highest bidder. "Pay me Rs 100 crore, and take away the ship," he was quoted as saying. "I brought down my price from Rs 125 crore to 100 crore because I am a ‘desh-bhakt’," he contended, adding that an NOC from the government would, however, be required for his firm to sell the ship.

It was, however, this inability to acquire a NOC from the Defence Ministry that made Envitech Marine Consultants Private Limited approach Bombay HC.

"Unfortunately, this has now become a game of 'chicken and egg'," Rupali Sharma, Envitech’s MD was quoted as saying. "The seller won't sell without the NOC and now the Ministry of Defence won't issue the NOC as it claims the seller doesn't want to sell. The clear intent is to proceed with destroying the ship."

Envitech is now reportedly mulling moving the Supreme Court.

Interestingly, efforts were first made by Maharashtra government to turn the ship into a maritime museum late last year. It made several attempts to get private bidders to jointly develop it into the country’s first-ever moored maritime museum-cum-hospitality facility. The Devendra Fadnavis government had sought to set up the facility off the Sindhudurg coast and had even earmarked a sum of Rs 852 crore for the purpose.

However, no bidder showed interest in developing the facility. “We have not received a single bid so far,” The Tribune quoted a source from the Maharashtra Maritime Board, which was to develop the project, in a report carried by it in July this year.

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