Hope Of Rescuing Viraat Fades, Nearly Impossible Terms For Transfer

Key to any possible transfer of the warship is a no-objection certificate from the Ministry of Defence which has not been forthcoming so far.

Hope Of Rescuing Viraat Fades, Nearly Impossible Terms For Transfer

INS Viraat during the 2007 Malabar Naval wargames with the US Navy.

New Delhi:

The Gujarat-based company which intends to break-up the former Navy carrier Viraat for scrap continues to offer a sliver of hope for a rescue plan that involves its transfer to Envitech Marine Consultants Private Limited which intends to convert the warship into a maritime museum.

However, the terms now being offered make it almost impossible for this plan to be realised.

"If there is a [government sanctioned] No Objection Certificate and they [Envitech] send full payment in one shot, then it is possible,'' Mukesh Patel, the Chairman of Alang-based Shree Ram ship-breakers told NDTV. That payment is expected to be at least Rs.110 crore. Earlier reports indicate that Shree Ram procured the warship from the government-run Metal Scrap Trade Corporation Limited (MSTC) through an e-auction for Rs.38 crores.

The final offer from the Shree Ram group makes it difficult for Envitech to procure the warship since they need to first inspect the hull of the aircraft carrier which has been beached in the silt off Alang since September before making any full and final payment. This inspection is crucial since any plan to eventually tow the warship from Alang will be dependent entirely on the condition of the hull of the vintage warship, construction of which began before the end of the Second World War. NDTV has learned that Envitech was willing to make an interim payment to the Shree Ram group, an offer which has been rejected.

A Memorandum of Agreement proposed by Envitech calls for two surveys of the hull of the warship to be carried out to ensure seaworthiness of the Viraat. A secondary, certified assessment of the condition of the warship ''will be conducted by [an] independent third party when the vessel is towed to anchorage or deeper waters."  Envitech believes any effort to approach the Ministry of Defence again may be futile without at least the primary surveys done and a letter from the Shree Ram shipbreakers of their intent to sell Viraat.

Damage to the hull of the aircraft carrier could also come from the process of winching the warship between 300-600 feet further ashore on Sunday by taking advantage of a high-tide. For now, Mr. Patel insists, ''there is no damage to the hull.''

Key to any possible transfer of the warship is a no-objection certificate from the Ministry of Defence which has not been forthcoming so far. In a letter to Envitech after the matter was brought up in the Bombay High Court, the Defence Ministry stated that the Gujarat-based ship-breakers did not want to dispense with the warship, a claim clearly contradicted by what Mr. Patel reiterated to NDTV this morning. ''Unfortunately, this has now become a game of 'chicken and egg,' says Rupali Sharma, the Managing Partner of Envitech. ''The seller won't sell without the NOC and now the Ministry of Defence won't issue the NOC as it claims that the seller doesn't want to sell.''

Last week, ahead of the forthcoming visit of the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to India as Chief Guest during Republic Day, a British trust had sent letters to Prime Minister Modi and the Mr. Johnson asking for assistance in getting permission to save Viraat which had also served with distinction in the Royal Navy as HMS Hermes before being transferred to India in 1986.