The Daily Star – ’71 warship reduced to heap of scrap

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23 November 2014 – The hull of the decommisioned Vikrant, which “once controlled the sea and ended a war”, was torn open on Friday at the breaking yard in south Mumbai, ending the journey of India’s first aircraft carrier.

The first to fall, 15 minutes before sunset, was the angled deck, which will be remembered for launching the most iconic air raid which destroyed most ships at the harbours in then East Pakistan, playing a crucial role in the Liberation War, 1971.

“It is a national shame that we could not save an iconic ship like her,” said Vice Admiral (Retd) IC Rao, who served onboard INS Vikrant as a chief engineer in 1975-76. He came to the breaking yard to bid her farewell, The Indian Express reported yesterday.

“She is irreplaceable. During the ’71 war, she cut off the Pakistani Army’s route and their morale was destroyed, shortening the war. I will keep complaining about the lack of public spiritedness, value of history and misgoverance. We sold our nation’s pride for a mere Rs 60 crore,” said Vice Admiral Rao.
“It was like seeing our own house being brought down because we could no longer afford to live in it. She has now joined the world of scrap.”

In the 1971 war, after successfully evading Pak submarine PNS Ghazi in the Bay of Bengal, INS Vikrant unleashed furious air power on Chittagong, Khulna and Cox’s Bazar, completely decimating any defensive capability there. After six days of unrelenting attacks, the Vikrant’s Sea Hawk’s ensured East Pakistan was fully contained from the sea.

INS Vikrant’s performance in the 1971 war cannot be understated, said an India Today article titled “Ten reasons why India should preserve INS Vikrant.”

With severe mechanical problems, including a failed boiler that potentially crippled flight operations and cruising speed, she still managed to bring a formidable fight to the enemy, earning her crew 2 Maha Vir Chakra and 12 Vir Chakra gallantry decoration.

The once-majestic aircraft carrier was bought in an e-auction by Mumbai-based IB Commercials Ltd.
“A team of around 200 people has been deployed to dismantle and break down the ship after we completed all legal and technical formalities and secured all requisite clearances from the agencies concerned,” Abdul Karim Jaka, director of the company, told IANS from the breaking yard at Powder Bunder in southeast Mumbai.

IB Commercial Pvt Ltd, which had won the bid to scrap the ship for Rs 63.02 crore in January, now hopes to earn a margin of 2-3 per cent for the scrap.

The process, which started on Thursday with the first blow hammered on its front portion, is expected to be completed within 7-8 months.

More than 60 percent of the artefacts from the aircraft carrier, which was bought from Britain in 1957, were moved to the Maritime History Society in Mumbai while rest was shifted to the Naval Aviation Museum in Goa before she was handed over for dismantling.

At the breaking yard, huge cranes separated the ferrous from the non-ferrous parts as soon as labourers removed parts of the fallen angled deck. Metal inspectors went about recording the content of each piece of scrap metal and separating it.

“Everything that comes of the ship is quality product. The navy is not restricted by budget when spending on a ship, especially an aircraft carrier, so there is no impurity,” said Zuber Jaka, 22, director of IB Commercial.

Jaka said the non-ferrous parts of the ship earns the most and is exported. The ferrous scrap will be sent to the rolling mills and the “unrollable” parts — referring to thermocol — will be sent to the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board for “safe disposal”.

If the ferrous parts sell for Rs 24 per kg, the non-ferrous parts sell for Rs 300 per kg, he said. And the ship with a gross registered tonnage of 21,067 tonnes, has a lot of it.

The company, which is paying Rs 1.40 lakh to the Mumbai Port Trust for using its land for ship breaking, will take another six to eight months to dismantle the entire ship.

“When we bought the ship, we were proud to get the opportunity to scrap ‘desh ki shaan’, but also a little sad. But the long delay and the wishes of many to preserve the ship made us feel bad about the lucrative deal we had struck,” said Abdul Karim Jaka, another director of IB Commercial.

The Jaka family is now relieved that the scrapping had begun.

“The SC ruled in our favour as the authorities and the navy thought it was not feasible to convert it into a museum. We also offered to hand over the ship to those who protested against the dismantling after paying for the ship. Once everything failed and we got permission from the port trust to break the ship, we just got to work,” he said.

Oblivious to Vikrant’s historical achievements, the contractor who controlled the winch that brought down the angled deck said he cannot afford to be emotional. “This is my line of work so I cannot get emotional about these things. This is my second naval ship, and I have helped break many a ship in my 12 years of work. But this one was definitely the most famous,” said Ghanshyam Yadav, the contractor.

Earlier, the Maharashtra government had expressed its inability to maintain Vikrant, which was decommissioned in January 1997. In January 2014, during the hearing of a PIL which opposed the plan to scrap the ship, the Defence Ministry told the Bombay High Court that it had completed its operational life.

As a memorabilia, the Jaka family has kept a metallic Ashok Chakra that was onboard the ship.