HARWICH'S historic LV18 light ship – featured in the pirate radio movie The Boat that Rocked - has been damaged in a suspected arson attack.

The boat, at Harwich Quay, was damaged in one of three suspected arsons in the town on Friday night, although police are not linking the incidents.

Fires were also thought to have been started at the former Harwich bus station and Harwich railway station, in Station Approach.

The incident at the historic vessel is being treated as arson by Essex Police. 

Harwich and Manningtree Standard: Devastated- Tony O'Neil smiling next to the boat in 2018Devastated- Tony O'Neil smiling next to the boat in 2018 (Image: NQ)

Tony O’Neil, curator and trustee at the LV18, told the Harwich and Manningtree Standard that he won't let this attack beat him. 

He said: "It's devastating. My wife and I were called at 9pm, we live just opposite.

"We've just launched a radio station onboard and after spending a lot of money it was finally working perfectly.

"It’s the only boat of its kind left as it is, it's unique, it’s a national treasure and a Harwich treasure.

"So many local people have been working here for generations.

"We had a grant of £500,000 almost 12 years ago to deliver the project successfully, which has been completed 12 years later - and now this has happened.

"We reopened and it's become very much an iconic spot in Harwich.

"It's been a real struggle over the years. But general support from the public has been amazing.

"We're not allowed to go on board yet, so we won't find out the extent of the damage until Monday. 

"The artefacts down below are priceless and irreplaceable.

"The fire was put out by very brave crews, they were fighting the fire well into the night and they came from all over Essex.

"We're very lucky they all came. The heat was so intense, they risked their lives to be there.

"Harwich Haven Authority who are in charge of the harbour here were straight with us and Paul Milsom, the owner of the Pier Hotel got in touch with the manager to stay open to provide drinks and coffee for everyone involved.

"I want to thank the people of Harwich who have sent us so many messages of support.

"We will bounce back soon, the ship is still afloat so that's the main thing.

"We're a charity, we don’t have much money and everything is smoke-damaged.

"We will be launching an appeal on www.lv18.org as I know people want to donate.

"It is in original 1958 condition, well it was."

"It took me 12 years to get it in Harwich and I'm not going to be beaten now am I."

A spokesman for Essex Police said: "We were called to The Quay shortly after 9.05pm on Friday 2 February to reports a Victorian light ship was on fire.

"It was reported that a group of young people were seen leaving the area shortly after the fire had started and we are treating the fire as arson.

"However, we do not believe this incident is linked to any others in the area last night as it was discovered after the suspect had been arrested."

Harwich and Manningtree Standard: Response- the fire service at the scene at The QuayResponse- the fire service at the scene at The Quay (Image: Public)

Firefighters from Dovercourt, Colchester, Weeley, Frinton, Clacton, Coggeshall, Great Baddow, Maldon and Wivenhoe fire stations were in attendance in Harwich throughout the night.

The first callout of the night was to a vehicle fire in George Street, Harwich at 7.22pm.

On arrival, four crews from Dovercourt, Colchester and Weeley reported that two vans were on fire near the bus station and there was also a small fire inside a railway station building.

To help prevent the fires spreading throughout the building and to nearby buildings, crews requested the help of a further two crews from Clacton and Coggeshall.

Crews worked to extinguish the fires and believe the fires in George Street were started deliberately.

At 9.54pm, the fire service was called to a pile of rubbish on fire in an alleyway in Vansittart Street, Harwich.

A crew from Frinton worked to prevent the fire spreading to nearby houses. Firefighters extinguished the fire by 10.16pm.

While crews were working to extinguish the fire in George Street, they were called at 8.57pm to reports of a boat on fire.

On arrival, crews reported that a boat docked in the port was on fire and heavily smoke-logged.

Firefighters remained at the scene until 4am, working alongside coastguard and Port of Harwich colleagues They worked to prevent the fire spreading throughout the boat and were able to contain it to the engine room.

The fire service said it will be visiting the scene throughout the day to monitor the temperatures within the engine room and to carry out an investigation into the cause of the fire.

Harwich and Manningtree Standard: Damaged - the LV18 at Harwich QuayDamaged - the LV18 at Harwich Quay (Image: Essex Police)

Group manager Danny Partridge said: “Crews have been working in punishing conditions with extremely high temperatures in the engine room but have worked hard to enter the engine room from the deck and prevent the fire spreading throughout the rest of the boat.

“We’ve still got lots more work to do to fully extinguish the fire and cool the scene and I’d like to praise crews for their determination in what has busy night in Harwich with three incidents.

“Our Control Room has taken lots of calls to the incidents in Harwich tonight and I’d like the thank them for their quick actions to get crews to the scene while incidents were happening simultaneously.”

The ex-Trinity House vessel LV18 is the last surviving example of a manned light vessel in British waters.

It starred in Richard Curtis’ 2009 movie The Boat That Rocked, starring Bill Nighy and Rhys Ifans.

Witnesses or anyone with information, CCTV, dash cam or other footage in relation to the incident should contact Essex Police quoting incident 1216 of February 2.


The fire service has now left the scene after monitoring temperatures on the boat throughout the morning.

An estimated 60 firefighters have been praised for "acting quickly" during the multiple fires across Harwich.

The scene has now been handed over to Essex Police to investigate.

Station manager Karen Nicoll, incident commander said: “It’s been an incredibly busy time for our crews since yesterday evening with three incidents happening at the same time in Harwich.

“I’d really like to praise crews at the first incident we attended with the van fires in George Street.

"They acted quickly to get the fires under control which meant we could release crews from that incident to the boat fire in The Quay.

"This incident was a challenging one to bring the fire under control due to the extreme temperatures within the engine room of the boat.

"Crews acted quickly to enter the boat and bring that fire under control to prevent it spreading throughout the boat and that has hopefully meant it will be repairable.

“Thank you to our partners at the incidents in Harwich who helped us put cordons in place, access the boat and keep the public safe while we dealt with these incidents.

"We’d also like to thank The Pier Hotel team for their generosity during the incident in providing a space with refreshments for crews during breaks in firefighting.

“We had around 60 firefighters dealing with the three incidents throughout the evening, many of them are on-call firefighters who are paid to protect their community.

"They all live or work within 5 minutes of an on-call fire station and are paid to protect their community."