New Delhi: After the launch of Arihant, the country’s first nuclear submarine last month, decks have been cleared for the transfer of a crucial shipyard — off Visakhapatnam — from the Shipping Ministry to the Ministry of Defence towards creating an indigenous capability to manufacture nuclear submarines.
Hindustan Shipyard, close to the Ship Building Centre where Arihant was manufactured, is set to be transferred to the MoD and will be critical to the Navy’s plan to induct a fleet of nuclear submarines in the coming years.
The transfer comes after protracted negotiations between the two Ministries. The move was stalled during the last UPA after former Shipping Minister T R Baalu stubbornly refused to let go of the shipyard citing that their shipbuilding capacity would be hit considerably.
An empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM), headed by Pranab Mukherjee, was finally formed last year to sort out the issue which involved transfer of some strategic land owned by the Port Trust of India to the MoD. The negotiations saw heavy resistance from Baalu’s Shipping Ministry with tempers running high at several such meetings.
The issue has finally been laid to rest with a new minister at Shipping’s helm. The strategic importance of transferring the shipyard was also explained by the Defence Ministry. The Indian Express has learnt that Cabinet approval for the shipyard’s transfer is expected shortly.
Navy Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta confirmed that the transfer is in its final stages. “We do need to have additional capacity and are very keen that it happens. It (Hindustan Shipyard) was my project and I hope to see it through to completion before I finish,” said Mehta who will retire at the end of this month.
The Ministry of Shipping currently has three shipyards — HSL at Visakhapatnam, Cochin Shipyard Ltd at Kochi, Hooghly Dock and Port Engineers Ltd at Kolkata.
HSL has built some 150 ships and repaired over 1,800 ships so far. Its mainstay is in merchant-ship building besides naval repairs.
However, with the transfer expected since 2008, there has been a freeze on the shipyard taking up any fresh orders as well.
While the three planned nuclear submarines will be rolled out of the Ship Building Centre, vital components for future class of vessels will be manufactured at HSL. Besides, overhauling and repairs of the nuclear submarines will be carried out at the shipyard which is currently the only available place that can handle warships of this size.
The Navy’s plan calls for at least three Arihant class vessels followed by another line of nuclear attack submarines. The close proximity of the shipyard to the current submarine production unit, experts say, is a bonus.
The plan to transfer the yard to the Defence ministry will include replacing all standing private sector orders with Navy orders. Given the large requirement of ships by the Navy and Coast Guard, the yard will have its books full for the next decade. At present, all three Naval shipyards are overbooked.
“We are woefully short of capacity in our defence shipyards. There are ships that are being built on order at all (existing) defence shipyards. All are full,” Mehta said.
Its strategic location and proximity to the Eastern Naval Command made the transfer even more critical for the Ministry of Defence. The Navy has been one of HSL’s major customers during the past two decades. The yard carries out minor repairs and refit jobs on frontline frigates of the Rajput class and Russian Foxtrot submarines in service with the Navy.