The world’s oldest aircraft carrier, INS Viraat
The world’s oldest aircraft carrier, INS Viraat

The longest serving aircraft carrier in the world, decommissioned INS Viraat, set sail for Alang ship breaking yard in Gujarat on Saturday, where it will be broken down and sold as scrap. INS Viraat, which had served both the Royal Navy and the Indian Navy, was towed by tug boats, as Navy veterans bid adieu with teary eyes and a lump in their throats from the Gateway of India. INS Viraat began its final voyage from the Naval Dockyard, where it was berthed after being decommissioned on March 6, 2017.

The vessel had earlier served in the UK's Royal Navy as HMS Hermes, and was named INS Viraat after being inducted in the Indian Navy, serving it for 30 years. The INS Viraat has been headed by four commanding officers-- Admirals Madhvendra Singh, Arun Prakash, NK Verma and DK Joshi. Numerous pleas and offers to convert the decommissioned INS Viraat into a Naval Museum or a restaurant went unheard as it set sail for a final voyage towards a breaking yard after it was brought by Alang-based Shree Ram Group for Rs 38.54 crore in an auction conducted by the Metal Scrap Trade Corporation Limited last month.

The erstwhile UK-built ship, served Indian Navy by remaining at sea for 22,580 days and covered 5,90,000 nautical miles and 22,622 hours of flying operations in the country's service. As 'HMS Hermes', the vessel had served the British Navy from November 1959-April 1984 and had seen royalty for a brief period. In 1974, Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, had flown helicopters of the 845 Naval Air Squadron aboard the 'HMS Hermes'. With a crew of 1,500, INS Viraat could carry a huge load of combat-ready aircrafts and helicopters.

It took part in Operation Parakram in October 2001-July 2002; Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka from July 18-August 17, 1989, and had several other creditable achievements to her credit in her long maritime career. A Defence spokesperson said that INS Viraat was to leave for Alang on Friday, but its departure was delayed by a day. After the government failed to preserve INS Viraat as a maritime museum, there was social media outrage over the inability of the government to preserve the vessel in a bid to depict India's rich naval heritage

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