Cutty Sark gutted by fire
May 21, 2007
The Cutty Sark, a London landmark and the world's last surviving 19th century tea clipper, was severely damaged in a blaze on Monday.
The ship helped build Australia's early economy by speeding prized wool shipments to London.
Built for the tea trade, it switched to fetching wool from Australia to feed England's mills when the advent of reliable steamships spelt the end of the age of the sailing clippers.
On the Australia to Britain route the ship regularly recorded the fastest time for the voyage.
The ship has been in dry dock in Greenwich since 1954.
Flames and thick black smoke shot high into the sky above the dry dock on the banks of the River Thames on Monday.
Forty firefighters brought the blaze under control. Aerial television pictures showed a mass of charred timbers that was once one of the world's fastest ships.
Early reports said damage to the vessel was extensive, but authorities later expressed confidence it could be rebuilt, adding that many crucial artefacts were not aboard due to the restoration work.
Mr Livett promised to rebuild the ship.
"The old girl needs more help than ever," the trust's Chris Livett told a news conference.
"She is a national treasure. With people's help, I am confident that we will get back on track and get her reopened."
Paddy Pugh, from the conservation body English Heritage, told the BBC: "It's a tragedy. She was the Ferrari of the open seas.
"It's one of the genuine icons of London."
The ship, launched in 1869 on Scotland's River Clyde to make the run to China for the lucrative tea trade, was undergoing a £25 million ($60 million) refurbishment.
The vessel, which made its first voyage in 1870, had been due to reopen in 2009 once the restoration project was complete.
Half of the ship's timbers had been removed for renovation before the fire. The masts and ship's wheel were among the items safely in storage.
No one was injured in the blaze and police said there was no evidence the fire was started deliberately. Security camera footage is being checked and officers appealed for witnesses.
Richard Doughty, chief executive of the Cutty Sark Trust, expressed shock at Monday's fire.
The Docklands Light Railway, serving the Docklands business area on the opposite side of the River Thames, was also closed as a precaution, as were several nearby rail lines.
In 1954 the ship, which had been renamed a number of times after becoming a general cargo vessel, finally swapped the high seas for a concrete dry dock in Greenwich, home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
Tea clippers were narrow-beamed sailing ships that could make fortunes for their owners if they were first back to London because the first tea cargo of the season could be sold at a premium.
People used to bet on which vessel would win the race and the first sighting of a clipper's tall masts off the English coast would be major news in the capital.
Originally designed to last just 30 years, the Cutty Sark is a rare construction with a wrought iron frame clad in timber.