In a distressing turn of events, the iconic LV18, a preserved light vessel moored in Harwich, Essex, fell victim to a suspected arson attack. Emergency services rushed to the quay shortly after 9:05 pm on Friday, February 2nd, responding to reports of flames engulfing the historic vessel.
Eyewitnesses reported seeing a group of individuals leaving the vicinity shortly after the fire broke out, leading Essex Police to treat the incident as a case of arson.
LV18 holds significant historical importance as the last surviving example of a manned light vessel in British waters. Built in 1956 by Philip & Son of Dartmouth, the 137-foot-long steel-hulled vessel served diligently with a crew of nine seamen before being decommissioned in 1994. Acquired by The Pharos Trust in 2002, a charity dedicated to preserving maritime heritage, LV18 was meticulously restored to its original configuration and opened to the public in 2011.
Tony O’Neil, representing The Pharos Trust, disclosed to BBC Essex that the restoration of LV18 had been a 24-year project. He granted the BBC exclusive access to the vessel, describing the “totally punishing” effect the fire had on him.
Mr. O’Neil revealed that the £40,000 he and his fellow volunteers had “scraped” together 18 months ago to outfit the boat with a studio which has now gone up in smoke. The fire not only ravaged the studio but also ripped through the cabins below deck, leaving the boat’s upper floor severely smoke damaged.
“Although myself, my wife, and all the volunteers – and the whole of Harwich – are absolutely devastated by this, we shall not be beaten,” Mr. O’Neil declared, emphasizing the resilience of The Pharos Trust and the community.
Essex Fire Service battled the inferno until 4 am, facing “punishing conditions” and high temperatures to contain the blaze primarily to the engine room. Despite the valiant efforts of firefighters, the vessel suffered extensive smoke damage. However, The Pharos Trust remains resolute in its commitment to restoring LV18 to its former glory.
Fire crews continued their investigation into the cause of the fire, returning throughout the following day to monitor temperatures within the engine room. The incident has prompted an outpouring of support from the community, with many expressing their sympathy with The Pharos Trust in their endeavor to preserve this invaluable piece of maritime history.
LV18‘s legacy extends beyond its maritime significance as it played a prominent role in the 2009 film The Boat That Rocked and housed an extensive collection of pirate radio memorabilia. The Pharos Trust had recently launched a 24/7 radio station aboard LV18, with plans to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Radio Caroline this Easter.
Police have charged Christopher Parker, 33, of Alexandra Street, in Harwich with four counts of arson in connection with the fire and a separate incident at the local railway station.
Mr. O’Neil affirmed, “We will not be beaten, and we will bounce back,” and has set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds to restore the vessel. A link to which can be found here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/lv18-restoration-fund