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Friday, January 20, 2012

Indian Aircraft Carrier - a Canadian Conspiracy!

As far as military conspiracies go, one could easily rank this right up there, amongst the most incogitable. In fact, a plot like this could very well have been taken right out of a Tom Clancy edge-of-the-seat mil-tech novel saga. But I'd doubt, even he would have risked coming up with a scenario this outlandish, least it gave his publishers a heart-attack, laughing. Then again, quoting the oft-repeated cliché, "Truth is Stranger than Fiction".

It is well-known that Canada, in the past, operated Aircraft Carriers in its Navy. Equally well-known is the fact that, owing to financial constraints, Canada decided to scrap the last of its operational Aircraft Carriers, the HMCS Bonaventure in 1970. But then, when you are an American Yes-Man, you really have no need to operate your own Aircraft Carrier, save, for the urge to massage your ego1.


Coming back to the incident, a decision was then taken to send the ship to a shipbreaking yard in Taiwan [some sources have also indicated Japan]. However, during the course of this journey, authorities in Canada, it is said, suddenly lost contact with the Bonaventure entourage for two whole weeks, when it was estimated to be reaching/passing by Thailand in the 'Indian Ocean'. Two weeks passed, contact re-established, the vessel went on to reach its destination in Taiwan [or, Japan], & was then dismantled. [Today, it would, probably, have been sent to India's Alang shipbreaking yard, as was the initial plans for the French Aircraft Carrier, Clemenceau] .

This is when things get really outré. Certain quarters in Canada, including politicians, are convinced that the ship dismantled wasn't the Bonaventure at all!

As the story goes, India, on learning that the Bonaventure, still a relatively new Aircraft Carrier which had, in fact, received an upgrade, when it was decided to no longer operate it, was being sent to Taiwan [or, Japan], decision was taken to swap its own Aircraft Carrier, the Indian Navy's INS Vikrant, with the Bonaventure. It is possible for those who say so to suggest such a thing because both belonged to the same type, the British Majestic class of Aircraft Carrier, and were, thus, visually identical.

"Rumours persist that the Vikrant was actually replaced mid-life by her sister ship, the Canadian aircraft carrier Bonaventure that was allegedly scrapped in 1971."

"The ship had been sold to Japan for scrap, but after leaving for the Japanese yard, disappeared for two weeks. Then, as though nothing was wrong, the ex-Bonaventure showed up in a Japanese yard to be cut to pieces, and all was well. That is until DND photographs of the hull being cut up suggested to the keen observer that the Indian Vikrant was actually the ship being destroyed."


Another description of this supposed adla-badli2. This one evokes a vividly colorful image :)

"others believe she was swapped for the INS Vikrant during a mid-ocean deal with the Indian Navy - a myth fuelled by the fact the tug towing her to Asia was out of contact for two weeks."


"The Vikrant got a mysterious upgrade in 1970, which co-incided with the Bonnie's tow to Thailand, in fact the two ships were in the same patch of ocean at the same time. It is rumoured that the Vikrant ended up being scrapped, and the Bonnie (with the upgrades/refit) went into Indian service. There are photos of Canadian fighter squadron patches decaled to panels in the Vikrant."


[The 'mysterious upgrade' being referred to was reported to be a fix to repair a leak in the Boiler-system, generating steam to operate its aircraft-launching catapult. An ingenious solution was implemented to overcome this problem, as India was about liberate Bangladesh from the oppressive regime of, then, West Pakistan3, & therefore the INS Vikrant was needed to be put into action]


As if it weren't strange enough, the fact that a switch had, indeed, taken place was even, apparently, unwittingly, confirmed by an Indian Naval Officer to, no less than, a Canadian politician, Senator J. Michael Forrestall,

"In 1971, with Halifax Herald reporter Mike Bembridge, Senator Forrestall attempted to track down Bonaventure.  One evening, Forrestall called the Indian Embassy and asked the Military Attache how the Bonaventure was working out. The Attache replied, "splendid, we are quite pleased with it." and then, realizing his slip, immediately hung up the phone."


Theoretically speaking, it would not be impossible to revive power to the decommissioned ship. While it would be safe to assume, that the Canadians would have4 removed Bonaventure's sensitive weapon systems prior to dispatching it for breaking it down, its propulsion system, was likely to have been left intact, nearly impossible that it would be to remove them, without first dismantling the outer structures. Thus, if one were to decide to re-start its engine & sail its to India, it would be possible, albeit with great effort.

However, that isn't quite why such a venture would be deemed improbable. Lets not even take into account the technical & operational feasibility of such a move. It is the vast number of people who are involved in the thousands of different aspects of the Aircraft Carrier & its operation, who would practically preclude such a venture from ever being undertaken in total secrecy. Considering such a possibility would automatically imply that each & every one of the thousands of crew member of the INS Vikrant, hundreds of officials at India's Ministry of Defence & Naval officers, not to mention the Prime Minister's office, have maintained Omerta [though not in the criminal sense], to an extent, that would make even its original practitioners proud. This, in a country, where adherence to secrecy often give the impression of being as tight as a leaky faucet. Then you also have to factor in Taiwan [or, Japan] & the Army of shipbreakers themselves, hundreds of whom are employed to break a ship, the size of an Aircraft Carrier. Not even a pipsqueak about this switch from even one of them, even 42 years after the supposed switch. Hard to believe, isn't it?

While it is nigh impossible to accept this conspiracy theory with the information that is available in the public domain [read, "the Interwebs", for me], it would be interesting if one were to take it up to dig deeper into the matter, to see if there exists a stronger case to believe such a thing could have happened. In fact, such a report could be just the thing for a tabloid newspaper [or in India, even tabloid news channels, that pretend to be serious news channels] to take up for reporting. Meanwhile, Senator Forrestall continued to insist on the switch having taken place,

"Senator Forrestall contends that Bonaventure, which had just received a substantial refit, was switched in the dark of night at sea for the INS Vikrant, badly in need of a refit, and that it was the Vikrant which was actually destroyed."

It would make for some interesting hearing if one could access his statement made on this issue in the Oral History Project undertaken by the Library of Parliament in Canada. Juicy stuff, it would be.

While we are on the issue of conspiracy theories "alternate explanations", one also exists [don't they always] to explain the tragic destruction of the Russian Nuclear-powered submarine, the Kursk - it accidentally collided with an American submarine, while it was tailing the Kursk, damaging it & was then struck by a Torpedo launched by yet another American submarine, this time, not accidentally.

Sinking of the Russian Nucler-powered Submarine, Kursk


1 - Kidding! Peace

2 - Hindi, for swap [colloquial]

3 - Today, just Pakistan. Given current situation, progressive loss of alphabets must not be ruled out

4 - Or, should have, unless, of course, it really intended to swap the Aircraft Carrier with India