London's historic Cutty Sark is destroyed by fire

Cutty Sark to rise from the ashes after arson attack

21st May 2007
Daily Mail (external - login to view)

Arson theory supported by absence of electrical equipment on board

Ship's precious artefacts are safe after being removed for restoration

Greenwich residents tell of horror at seeing their beloved landmark ablaze

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are due to visit the Royal Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow. The Duke of Edinburgh, who is President of the Cutty Sark Trust, is saddened by the news

The Cutty Sark, the world's most famous tea clipper and a famous London landmark, before the fire. The ship was undergoing restoration

The remains of the Cutty Sark today

Fears grew today that the blaze which ripped through the historic Cutty Sark was started deliberately.

Investigators are examining CCTV footage which shows people near the 19th century tea clipper moments before the fire broke out.

Scores of firefighters battled to save the ship today as 100-foot-high flames engulfed the hull in its dry dock in Greenwich.

Yet despite the damage, members of the Cutty Sark Trust announced that the vessel could be rescued.

Board member Chris Livett said: "She did not fall apart, she did not break her back. After a quick assessment it seems the Cutty Sark can be saved."

Aftermath: The charred remains of the Cutty Sark in GreenwichTrustees issued a nationwide appeal for help in restoring the vessel.

Police and fire investigators were today beginning an arson inquiry. Residents reported hearing an explosion at around 4.45am before the fire took hold.

The 280ft ship, built in 1869, was undergoing a 25 million refit aimed at securing its future as one of London's leading tourist attractions and symbol of Britain's maritime heritage.

Destroyed: 100ft flames engulf the Cutty Sark at Greenwich early today when the 138-year-old ship was gutted in less than two hours. Police are treating the fire as suspicious and have appealed for witnesses

Experts restoring the Cutty Sark, once the world's fastest tea clipper, described the blaze as a "devastating blow". Mr Livett said it had caused extensive damage to the main deck, the 'tween decks and the lower deck as well as planking on the hull, which had not yet been removed for restoration.

But there was some relief when it emerged that many of the ship's historic artefacts, including its figurehead, sails, masts, prow and coachhousing had previously been removed.

While around 50 per cent of the iron and wooden hull was reported destroyed, Richard Doughty, chief executive of the Cutty Sark Trust, said many of the ship's beams had suffered only surface charring.

Before: the Cutty Sark in dry dock at Greenwich

He added: "It's an unimaginable shock. When you lose the original fabric you lose the touch of craftsmanship. You lose history itself.

"She is not just an important part of our maritime heritage but part of our national identity.

"She was the very first ship anywhere in the world to be conserved, back in the early 1920s. In terms of maritime heritage, she is one of the most important ships in the world. She is extraordinary, the epitome of speed under sail."

Commenting on the possibility that the blaze was suspicious, Mr Doughty said: "I find it hard to believe that anything we've done could have set the ship alight. "There isn't anything electrical at the heart of where the fire started. I can't think of anything there apart from wood and metal."

Police sources said no one was working on the ship at the time and there did not appear to be any flammable materials on the site. "It's early stages, we cannot get to the seat of the blaze because it's still too hot, but it's hard to see how it could be an accident. Arson is certainly one line of inquiry."

Eight fire engines were at the scene at 5am. It took more than two hours for firefighters to bring the blaze under control.

A huge plume of smoke rose from the charred wreckage this morning. The metal framing around the ship was warped and twisted from the intense heat. The ship's timbers would have been impregnated with tar and this could have helped the fire spread.

Police started evacuating residents in the immediate area at about 6am. However, they were later allowed back into their homes after firefighters ruled out the possibility of gas cylinders being on board.

The fire also caused disruption to morning commuters. Greenwich town centre was closed to traffic and the Cutty Sark DLR station was shut for nearly three hours. Several bus routes in the Greenwich area were diverted.

Greenwich High Road, Creek Road, Nelson Street and Horseferry Place were also closed.

Residents told of their horror at seeing their beloved landmark destroyed. All that was left on view this morning were some steel girders which had held in place a large tarpaulin cover to keep the ship dry during the restoration project.

Don Greenwood, 40, a photographer who lives in nearby Nevada Street, told how he woke to a massive bang, dialled 999 and then ran down to the ship to see what had happened.

"I rang emergency services and said that there was a big fire at Greenwich. I think it's the Cutty Sark.

And they said 'Where's that?' They said they needed a road. I was amazed that telling them the Cutty Sark was not enough information.

"Then I left the flat and ran down with my camera. For a while I couldn't take any pictures. I just felt sick. I couldn't believe what was happening."

Jamie Tucker, 23, a labourer, who lives on the Meridian Estate overlooking the Cutty Sark, said today: "For the Cutty Sark to go is a real shock. It's devastating."

The Queen is due to visit the Royal Maritime Museum, Greenwich, tomorrow. Buckingham Palace said the Duke of Edinburgh, who is president of the Cutty Sark Trust, was sorry to hear of the fire.

Mr Doughty vowed to redouble efforts to save the ship, saying this time would be "third time lucky" after two rescues last century. He said 25 million was needed to preserve it.
What a shame! My dad's favorite whiskey was Cutty Sark so the history of the vessel means a lot to me.

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