ENGINEERS THIS week cast doubt over the future of the fireravaged Cutty Sark and said that the £25M restoration project could be abandoned if damage to the ship's wrought iron hull is found to be severe.
Chairman of contractor Cutty Sark Enterprises Chris Livett said that initial inspections showed 'significant deformation' in the frames that give the tea clipper's hull its shape.
Fire erupted in the Victorian tea clipper's hold early on Monday morning, destroying the integrity of its three decks.
Timber members were entirely consumed, wrought iron beams lost section and some are feared to have yielded in the 1,000infinityC inferno.
'The ship was fragile before the fire, but I'd score it eight out of 10 for fragility now, ' warned Livett.
'There has been at least 10mm of inward movement at the top of the hull because the integrity of the decks has been destroyed, ' Livett said.
He warned that if significant deformation had occurred it could make it difficult to replace the original timbers that had been removed from the hull for restoration before the fire broke out.
Half of the Cutty Sark's teak and rock elm planking had been removed from its iron frame and taken to be restored at the Chatham Dockyard in Kent (see box).
Roughly 40% of the remaining hull planking has been severely fire-damaged.
'Cutty Sark was designed and built to accommodate a certain degree of movement under the stress and strain imposed by wind and waves, ' said Livett.
'The question is whether the deformation has been within those tolerances or not.' A visual survey of the ship is to be carried out over the next week but a full structural survey will take up to a month.
'Until that's completed, we won't know whether it's worth continuing with the restoration or not, ' Livett said.
No cause had been given for the cause of the fire as NCE went to press.
But lead conservation consultant for the Cutty Sark Trust, Eric Kentley, told NCE that it was unlikely the restoration work caused the blaze as 'no hot processes were being carried out in the ship'.
Police are investigating whether the fire was caused by arson.