( AFP ) - The Cutty Sark, the world's last remaining tea clipper, was engulfed by fire on Monday morning. Police were treating the blaze as suspicious.
Huge flames reaching up into the south London sky had entirely engulfed the 19th century museum ship, but by 7:00 am (0600 GMT) the blaze had been brought under control, Sky News cited firefighters as saying.
Richard Doughty, chief executive of the Cutty Sark Trust, said that he had been told that the blaze was being treated as suspicious.
"The chief fire officer on the site has told me the ship is 100 percent alight in the hold. They are treating it as suspicious at the moment," he told BBC Radio.
The vessel, which made its first voyage in 1870, had been under reconstruction and was due to reopen in 2009.
There were fears that gas cylinders that may be on board the ship because of the renovation work may explode.
Police were evacuating nearby residents and had closed off the area. The Docklands Light Railway was closed as a precaution, as were several nearby rail lines.
The world's only remaining tea clipper and fast by the standards of the time, the Cutty Sark made its first voyage in 1870, and was originally used to deliver tea from China in the 1870s.
Built 1869 by Scott
The tea trade was later taken over by steamers using the Suez Canal, and the Cutty Sark turned to general trading including transporting wool from Australia.
The ship has been in dry dock in Greenwich since 1954.
Doughty expressed shock at what had happened.
"When you lose the original fabric, you lose the touch of the craftsmen. You lose history itself," he said.
"What is special about Cutty Sark is the timber, the iron frames, that went to the South China Sea. To think that is threatened in any way is unbelievable. It is an unimaginable shock."