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Vikrant on e-auction, Eagle sad

Mumbai, Dec. 3: Over 16 years after its decommissioning, the aircraft carrier Vikrant is all set to be on sale in an e-auction by the defence ministry later this month. And no one is sadder than the Grey Eagle.

Confirming reports that the Indian Museum Ship (IMS) Vikrant would now be auctioned, Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, the flag officer commanding-in-chief of Western Naval Command, said: “It is sad, but true. The e-auctioning process has been initiated.”

Speaking to reporters on board INS Viraat on the eve of Navy Day, Vice Admiral Sinha said: “Personally, I am sad as I was among the last officers to have flown on board Vikrant.”

Decorated as the Grey Eagle — the longest serving naval aviator — Sinha was also part of the historic formal handover of the new, refurbished aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya by Russia last month.

The navy had continued to manage the Vikrant after it was decommissioned in 1997 and re-christened as an Indian Museum Ship to be preserved as a permanent museum berthed off the Mumbai coast.

“But now the state government has made it clear that they cannot support her further. So, the MoD (ministry of defence) has decided to put her up for auction,” said an emotional Sinha.

MSTC Ltd, a subsidiary of SAIL, initiated the e-auctioning process last month. The ship has been kept open for inspections by prospective bidders at Vikrant Jetty in the naval dockyard from November 26 to December 14.

Bidders have been asked to deposit a pre-bid earnest deposit of Rs 3.10 crore. The final bid for IMS Vikrant will open on the MSTC e-commerce bidding site at noon on December 18 and close the same day at 4pm.

The 1943 British-built Royal Navy ship HMS Hercules was sold to India in 1957, and was commissioned by the Indian Navy as INS Vikrant in 1961. It played a pivotal role in the 1971 India-Pakistan war and was decommissioned after 36 years of service.

It had been decided to permanently berth IMS Vikrant off Oyster Rock near the Radio Club near the Gateway of India in South Mumbai.

Maharashtra Urban Infrastructure Development Company Ltd was chosen as the agency to implement the maritime museum project in 2008. However, over the years, the project ran into rough weather.

In the past few years, the navy would open the ship to visitors, especially schoolchildren, on special occasions. But now its fate is uncertain, and the ship could well head for a scrapyard.

Asked about her fate, Vice Admiral Sinha said: “You would have to ask the bidders.”

He, however, hoped that a bidder could convert the ship into a museum.

If a bidder does convert it into a museum, Vice Admiral Sinha said, the Indian Navy would provide all possible help because of Vikrant’s sheer “emotional value”.