INS Vikrant is under construction at Cochin Shipyard, Kochi

Kochi: With the deployment of additional personnel from the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the security at Cochin Shipyard, where India's first indigenous aircraft carrier – INS Vikrant – is under construction, has been tightened.

The development comes in the wake of theft onboard the vessel in September last year. Four computers were dismantled and hard disks, RAMs and processors were stolen.

The decision follows the recommendations of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which had taken up the case in September after many groups expressed concerns that the sensitive information stored in these hard disks may pose national security risks.

NIA had examined the fingerprints of over 1000 people with the assistance of Kerala Police, but have been unable to find any leads. Police sources are of the view that the incident could be the handiwork of an insider. NIA has also endorsed this view.

Details of Integrated Platform Management System (IPMS) – a computerised system used onboard ships to monitor the working and course of the vessel and to warn against safety risks – reportedly stored within the hard drives were also sought from Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, the company which built it, and an Italian company which assisted it.

After the incident, biometric scanning and body scanning was made mandatory at the gates of the shipyard. While CCTV cameras were installed at the shipyard premises during the time of the incident, surveillance sensors were not fitted onboard the under-construction aircraft carrier. This too has been rectified.

Both the Union Defence Ministry and the Indian Navy had downplayed the theft, noting that the aircraft carrier is not yet part of the services.

Forty-six security personnel will be stationed at Cochin Shipyard, the largest shipbuilding and maintenance facility in India, until the completion of the vessel, slated for sea trials in February 2021. Cochin Shipyard is under the purview of the CISF.

INS Vikrant is the first Indian indigenous aircraft carrier vessel of the Indian Navy designed and built in India. The work on the ship's design began in 1999, and the keel was laid in February 2009. As of 2019, the ship is expected to start sea trials in February 2021 and enter into service as early as 2023. The project cost has neared Rs 20,000 crores.

With the completion of INS Vikrant, India will join the ranks of US, England, Russia, France and China in the construction of flight carriers.