October 16: Wouldn’t it be exciting to visit a war museum of vintage aircraft on a huge ship floating in the ocean ? And when the ship in question happens to be INS Vikrant, the experience promises to be truly memorable.

INS Vikrant is India’s first aircraft carrier and came into service in 1961. Once the hallmark of the Indian Navy, it has been decommissioned for some time now. This means that it is no longer in use. Formerly known as HMS Hercules, the ship could carry 22 aircraft and a crew of more than 1,000 soldiers, in its heyday.

Asia's First Floating Museum
Asia’s First Floating Museum [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]
Now there are plans to convert the decommissioned carrier into Asia’s first floating maritime museum. Actually, the idea was floated by the Indian navy last year. The navy probably hated the idea of watching its pride ship being reduced to a pile of scrap metal. For that’s usually what happens to ships that are no longer in use.

The navy approached the Maharashtra government and the Gujarat government with its proposal. But neither of the state governments showed any inclination at first, to help the navy convert INS Vikrant into a maritime museum.

The Indian navy even came out with their estimates for an auction of the ship – anyone with Rs. 20 crore could make a bid for the massive 18,000 tonne ship.

The navy’s insistence made the Maharashtra government reconsider its decision. It decided to carry out a research to see if the floating museum was indeed a viable proposition and thus sent a team of engineers, along with some officials from Mumbai’s Prince of Wale’s museum, to investigate.

The result – a report recommending the ship be converted (partly) into a maritime museum and docked at Oyster Rock, off Sassoon Docks, near Mumbai. The entire cost for the project (including the conversion and repairs) was estimated to be Rs 95 crore.

The focus of the museum is to be the development of the Indian Navy and INS Vikrant’s history. A war museum (containing vintage aircraft), a restaurant, souvenir shops, an exhibition hall and a tourism office are to be added on the upper deck of the ship.

And the best part is that passengers arriving at Mumbai airport, could bypass traffic and fly to INS Vikrant directly. The topmost deck would be converted into a helipad where helicopters full of tourists could land. Besides the entry charges, the helicopter service too would generate profits.

Not everyone is happy with the proposal though. Some environmentalists have said that docking such a large ship could cause environmental problems. But the engineers have disagreed and said that except for a bit of dredging work, the ship wouldn’t cause air or noise pollution in the region.

It’s a good thing that the navy recognized INS Vikrant’s value as a historic exhibit and potential tourist-attraction, and fought to preserve it. Left to the government, the ship would most certainly have been consigned to the scrap yard, and very soon forgotten.

The Indian government has generally shown little interest in preserving the relics of the past. This indifference has cost many precious items of the Indian heritage to be lost. Thankfully, at least a few, like INS Vikrant, will remain.