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Last Updated: Monday, 21 May 2007, 09:37 GMT 10:37 UK
'History itself has been lost'
By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News, Greenwich

Firefighters at the Cutty Sark
Fire crews were able to dampen the blaze

Two hours after a fire ripped through the hull of the Cutty Sark, the smell of burning timber lingered on the morning air as fire crews continued to soak the boat's decks and hull using pressure hoses.

The blaze was brought under control quickly.

Emergency services received a call at 0446 BST from a member of the public who said the Cutty Sark was ablaze.

The 138-year-old tea clipper lies just yards from the Thames in the heart of Maritime Greenwich, a World Heritage Site.

Beside it is the Royal Naval College, Sir Christopher Wren's great baroque masterpiece of English architecture.

The fire is a major blow to a 25m renovation project to save the ship, which has been under way since November 2006.

'Extremely sad'

The project to transform the interior and setting of the ship was about a quarter of the way in and 50% of the ship's planks, the mast, deck houses and captain's cabin had been removed to storage in south-east London.

The renovation programme has been shot to pieces
Richard Doughty
Project director and chief executive, Cutty Sark Trust

The fire swept through the entire remaining hull of the ship, which had been covered by a temporary roof, and the skeleton has suffered substantial damage.

"The boat was built for the China tea service - to be able to smell the burning timber and rope is extremely sad," Richard Doughty, project director and chief executive of the Cutty Sark Trust, told the BBC News website.

"The tragedy is you can't remake the fabric of the boat - these are timbers that were growing during the Battle of Agincourt [in 1415]. History itself has been lost."

The boat has three decks and it appears two have suffered substantial damage.

"It's a setback on many levels," said Mr Doughty.

The renovation project was to have been completed in the summer of 2008. It had received 13m from the Heritage Lottery foundation and almost 6m from corporate and private donations, but there was still a 7m gap to close, according to Mr Doughty.

He said one of the first things that needed to be done was to assess how much of the wrought iron skeleton had been damaged.

Cutty Sark ablaze
It is salvageable. The ship has been through many things
Chris Livett
Cutty Sark Enterprises

"The principal significance of the ship is its shape," he said.

"This is formed by the iron frames. If they have been seriously damaged, it's going to be very hard to conserve the ship in the way we had planned."

"I have been planning this for six years - it was the next chapter in the history of the most famous ship in the world. The renovation programme has been shot to pieces."

Mr Doughty described the ship as the epitome of speed under sail.

'Needed money'

Christ Livett, chairman of the Cutty Sark Enterprises, which was carrying out the restoration work, said the damage did not appear to be as bad as they first thought.

He told the BBC News website it was lucky so much of the ship had been removed.

"It is salvageable," he said. "The ship has been through many things. We are devastated, lots of people worked hard on the project."

Mr Livett added the blaze had made them more determined to complete the project to restore the much-loved clipper to her former glory and appealed to the public to help pay for the damage.

"The Cutty Sark has always needed money since the day she was built - even more so today," he added.

"The old girl needs more help than ever she did do in the past."

Renovation project manager Joseph James, of management consultant Hornagold & Hills, also told the BBC News website the ship's timbers would be salvageable.




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A fire officer describes the scene at the Cutty Sark



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