Experts are examining ship’s wrought iron frame to assess full extent of fire damage to famous tea clipper

Damage to the Cutty Sark after this morning’s fire may not be as extensive as first feared.

The Cutty Sark Trust said much of the ship’s original materials had been removed from the ship before the fire and experts said that there did not appear to be catastrophic damage to the ship’s wrought iron frame.

The fire broke out in the early hours of Monday morning and engulfed the 19th Century tea clipper in flames causing the evacuation of local residents. Police are currently regarding the fire as suspicious.

The ship is undergoing a £25m restoration to halt deterioration of the hull and to create a new visitor centre.

The three masts and most of the timber boarding covering the wrought iron frame had been taken away to allow access to the frame for conservation works.

The timber decking to the three decks was still in place and timber boarding to the lower part of the hull had not been removed. Ian Bell, technical manager for the Cutty Sark Trust said, “Much of the timber was removed prior to the fire. The timber that is left is in reasonable condition considering the circumstances.” He added the timber sections were very large and had only suffered relatively superficial charring.

Most of the damage has affected the upper decks. Aerial photographs show this has been completely destroyed, although the Cutty Sark Trust said this was going to be replaced as part of the conservation works.

The main deck, which appears to have been lost, would have been replaced anyway. The middle - or tween deck - has also suffered badly and according to the Cutty Sark Trust will need replacing or substantial repairs. This was not part of the original ship and was fitted in the 1920s.

The temporary timber spars supporting the ship in its dry dock have also been damaged and will need urgent replacement to stop the ship keeling over.

The main concern is damage to the wrought iron frame. Dr Eric Kentley, the Cutty Sark Trusts curatorial consultant, said, “If it distorts you will loose the shape which is the distinctive thing about the ship plus it will make it difficult to get the boards back on.”

He added he was concerned the wrought iron supports to the decks had distorted. Bell said a structural engineer was currently assessing the damage. He said,” We are looking for significant distortion in the iron frame but we are not seeing much of that.”

The damage will add to the £25m cost of the works as the site costs £60,000 a week to run and any delay to the programme will cause costs to rack up. According to Simon Beames of Youmeheshe, which is the architect for the project, said specialists were ready to deliver materials to site and the order for the glazing to the new visitor centre had been placed. He said, “This will now have to be put back.”

The Cutty Sark Trust said it will be several days before the full extent of the damage is known.