Possible arson attack ravages world's only surviving tea clipper

A fire on board the famous 19th Century ship Cutty Sark is now out and is being treated as suspicious by police. The 137-year old boat, the world’s only surviving tea clipper, was engulfed by a fire in the early hours of this morning, Monday 21 May. Watch live video footage by clicking here and following the link to ‘eyewitness video’.

Greenwich town centre in south-east London has been closed to traffic, and residents living near the ship were evacuated from their homes and taken to a Greenwich hotel.
The ship was undergoing £25m renovation works and was closed to visitors; a Cutty Sark Trust spokesman said 50% of the ship was removed for restoration work at the time of the fire. ‘There are pockets of charred planking and some have gone, but it doesn’t look as bad as first envisaged,’ he said.

Police are analysing CCTV images which are thought to show people in the area shortly before the fire started at about 0500 GMT. A police spokesman confirmed that detectives were looking into the possibility that the fire was deliberately started

Originally intended to transport tea from China to Britain in the 1870s, the 900-tonne Cutty Sark was built in 1869 by Scott & Linton in Dumbarton. The owners of the Cutty Sark – the Maritime Trust – and their Chief Executive, Richard Doughty, were the people who first enabled Yachting Monthly’s campaign to save Gipsy Moth IV, then in dry dock next to the famous Clipper ship, to get underway. They backed the campaign and sold the yacht to the UKSA for £1 and a gin and tonic!

Speaking today, Doughty said he feared what would be lost in the blaze: ‘When you lose original fabric, you lose the touch of the craftsman, you lose history itself,’ he said. ‘And what is special about Cutty Sark is the timbers, the iron frames, that went to the South China Seas, and to think that that is threatened in any way is unbelievable, it’s an unimaginable shock.’ He said the ship would be ‘irreplaceable’, and added that the Cutty Sark was not just an important part of maritime heritage but an important part of British identity itself.

Photo: Theo Szarowicz