On the morning of 21 May 2007 on the river Thames, in Greenwich (London, UK), the historical ship Cutty Sark, which had been closed and partly dismantled for conservation work, caught fire, and burned for several hours. The damage was extensive, with most of the wooden structure in the centre having been lost.
At least half of the “fabric” (timbers, etc) of the ship had not been on site as it had been removed during the preservation work. The trust was most worried about the state of iron framework to which the fabric was attached.
The fire was reported just before 5am on May 21. At its fiercest, the blaze inside the ship reached temperatures of 1,100 degrees centigrade. The report found that on the night, the security guards who should have been checking it were considering leaving work early and had actually written a false log up to 7am, which stated that ‚ “all is in order”.
When interviewed by police they gave ‚”vague and inconsistent accounts”. They were immediately dismissed. Det Chf Insp Dave Garwood said: ‚”Had they patrolled properly that night we believe the effects of the fire could have been prevented. They did not do the job they were paid to do.”
There were no also sprinklers on the ship, as they had been removed while it was being repaired, and no fire alarm went off. The investigation has found no evidence that the ship was subjected to an arson attack. It is the view of the inquiry that the cause was accidental. Having considered all the information available, it is believed that the most likely cause of the fire was the failure of an industrial vacuum cleaner that had inadvertently been left switched on over the weekend of the 19-20 May 2007.
The detective said that they have contacted the health and safety executive citing concerns about the industrial vacuum cleaner. It emerged that workers had left the vacuum on over night before and that in October 2006 the machine had to be sent back for repair to its manufacturers over safety fears. The construction management company in charge of the site, now faces questions about whether end-of-day checks were carried out correctly.
The fire burned through each of the ship’s three decks, destroying all the building work structures and tools onboard.
The damage added ¬£10 million to the cost of an ongoing conservation project, bringing the total to ¬£35 million. But the damage could have been far worse; much of the ship had already been removed from the site.