Mumbai, March 7: INS Viraat, the world’s oldest aircraft carrier in service with the Indian Navy was decommissioned on Monday after 30 years at an impressive ceremony onboard and in the presence of Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba and top armed forces officials. Notably, Viraat was decommissioned at Mumbai's Naval Dockyard exactly at sunset in a ceremonial farewell during which the Naval Ensign was brought down.
At the sunset on Monday, the Naval Ensign and Commissioning Pennant was lowered for the last time on board INS Viraat, symbolic of the end of Viraat era in the history of Indian Navy. This marks the end of an era of Viraat being the flagship of the Indian Navy.
India finally let goes its Centaur-class carrier, INS Viraat, which has spent 30 years in the Indian Navy and 27 years in the Royal Navy. The decommissioning event was attended by India’s Chief of Naval Staff, Sunil Lamba and the British Royal Navy's First Sea Lord, admiral Sir Phillip Andrew Jones.
Addressing the press conference, Chief of Naval Staff, Sunil Lamba said, “Viraat is not only a common ship but it is the matter of Pride for us.” "There is no decision yet on Andhra government's proposal to turn it into a hotel and Maritime museum. We had sent a proposal to all the states but received only from Andhra government," he added.
Meanwhile, Retired personnel from British Royal Navy, who had served on Viraat then Hermes, were also present at the event. Andy Trish, who served as Navy Airman on Hermes during the 1982 Falklands War, recalled his time on the aircraft carrier. Trish said he was just 19 when he came to serve this ship and he celebrated his birthday on this very ship.
"This ship is still very beautiful. We were at war for days on end. This aircraft carrier played a pivotal role in the war. Aircraft were flown from this deck. I got to sleep on the very same bed as I used to sleep while serving this ship," said Trish.
Notably, the aircraft carrier, in its earlier avatar, had won Falklands War against Argentina in 1982 for the Royal British Navy. It weighs about 27,800 tonnes and served in the British Navy as HMS Hermes from November 1959 to April 1984 and after refurbishment was commissioned into the Indian Navy. Indian Navy purchased it at the cost of $65 million and was recommissioned on 12 May 1987.
INS Viraat is the longest serving warship in the world. It holds the Guinness Books of record for this. Its motto is (in Sanskrit)- “Jalamev Yasya Balmev Tasya” (One who controls the sea is all powerful). The crest of Viraat shows an eagle which symbolizes air power and the five arrows held in the talons of the eagle depict the ship’s versatile weapon capability. She is referred to as ‘Mother’ in the Western Navy.
Viraat has played a major role in Operation Jupiter in 1989 in the Sri Lankan peacekeeping operation. Her major participation was seen in Op Parakram in 2001-20012 when India and Pakistan were engaged in a standoff post the Parliament terror attack. The ship has participated in various international joint exercises such as Exercise Malabar with the US, Exercise Varuna with France, etc. It has been instrumental in honing the art of flying operations from a carrier deck in the Navy, which resulted in the seamless induction of INS Vikramaditya.
Viraat consisted of the fighter jet, Sea Harriers, popularly called ‘White Tigers’, anti-submarine aircraft, Seak King Mk 42B, Sea King Mk 42 C was known as ‘Harpoons’ and the Chetak helicopter. The Sea Harriers fleet was decommissioned in Goa on May 11, 2016. The Advanced Light Helicopter-’Dhruv’- and the Russian twin rotor Kamov-31 are also operated on the ship.