The ex-Trinity House vessel LV18 has been hit by a suspected arson attack, while at her moorings in Harwich, Essex. Emergency services were called to The Quay shortly after 9.05pm on Friday 2 February to reports that the lightship was on fire. It was reported that a group of young people were seen leaving the area shortly after the fire had started, and Essex Police are treating the fire as arson.
LV18 is the last surviving example of a manned light vessel in British waters, which has been preserved in its original configuration and restored to a high standard of authenticity. The 137 foot long, steel-hulled lightship was built in 1956 by Philip & Son of Dartmouth. She served with a crew of nine seamen on some of the most exposed stations around the coast before being laid up in 1994.
LV18 was purchased by her present owner in 2002, The Pharos Trust, a charity set up to preserve this important piece of maritime heritage for her home port of Harwich. The ship opened to the public in 2011 and forms a focal point on the waterfront of this historic maritime town. It is the only surviving lightship not to have been stripped of its accommodation, still containing the original crew quarters, galley, mess room and six Gardner diesel generators to power the lantern, foghorns and ships equipment. It also starred in the 2009 film The Boat That Rocked, and houses one of the largest collections of pirate radio memorabilia that is accessible to the UK public.
The Pharos Trust had recently launched her 24/7 radio station this Christmas and wants to get back to it in time for the 60th anniversary of Radio Caroline this Easter.
Tony O'Neil from the Trust told BBC News that on arrival at the ship, he was "confronted with absolute piles of smoke".
Essex Fire Service were at the scene until 4am working to extinguish the fire and cool the scene. Firefighters worked "in punishing conditions with extremely high temperatures" to prevent the fire spreading throughout the boat and were able to contain it to the engine room.
Fire crews returned throughout the following day to monitor the temperatures within the engine room and to carry out an investigation into the cause of the fire.
The ship has suffered extensive smoke damage, and, due to the quantity of water needed to fight the fire, was left listing heavily to starboard. After a meeting involving marine professionals, overseen by a newly appointed marine contract manager, the ship has been made level and is not currently at risk. The appointed marine surveyor is due to visit to identify anything else that needs to be done regarding the ship’s integrity.
In the meantime, The Pharos Trust has launched a crowdfunder to help pay for restoration costs. "We will not be beaten and we will bounce back," Tony O'Neil said. If you would like to help please Read more and donate.
See photographs of the fire damage to the interior of the vessel on the BBC website.