Captain Puneet Chadha reflects on the contribution of the INS Viraat, as the aircraft carrier gets ready for decommissioning
Photos: Captain Puneet Chadha by Albin Mathew; the ship
When senior British engineer Conrad Walker of the HMS Defender arrived at Visakapatnam, in February, to take part in the International Fleet Review, he was told that the INS Viraat was also taking part. He asked and got permission to board the aircraft carrier. The reason: he had served three years on it when it was the HMS Hermes and took part in the 1982 Falklands War (the Indian Navy acquired it from Britain in 1987).
On a recent September afternoon, at the Cochin Shipyard, Captain Chadha looks relaxed in his office at the 57-year-old warship. “We have come here to do the Essential Repairs and Dry Docking,” he says. “This will make the ship safe for disposal. For example: there are lots of underwater openings, which will be blanked to prevent flooding. We will reduce the fire risks.”
Incidentally, 'Viraat' is the Sanskrit word for giant. It has spent 2,250 days at sea, and sailed a distance of 10,94,215 kms. An analogy would be that the carrier has circled the globe 27 times. When it was fully operational, it had a crew of 1500 officers and men. The ship also has a 12 degree ski jump and can accommodate 750 troops.
The 'Viraat' played a major role in Operation Jupiter in 1989 (Sri Lankan Peace-Keeping Force) and in Operation Vijay (1999) it created a blockade against Pakistan during the Kargil War. The ship has also participated in international joint exercises like Malabar (with the US Navy), Varuna (French Navy), and Naseem-Al-Bahar (Oman Navy). ‘The Viraat’ also holds the Guinness Book Of World Records for being the oldest serving warship.
Interestingly, five Chiefs of Naval Staff, including the present incumbent, Admiral Sunil Lanba, have served on board.
“In fact, there is a saying inthe Navy, 'Once a Viraatee always a Viraatee',” says Captain Chadha. “That is the pride we have felt while serving on board this mighty ship.”
As a swift monsoon breeze blows, Captain Chadha looks sombre. “I feel sad that we will be leaving the ship, but, at the same time, I am happy that it can now enjoy a well-deserved retirement,” he says.
(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)