Sealand in ruins after blaze
A FORMER wartime fortress which is now a self-proclaimed independent state has been left devastated after a fierce blaze tore through the structure.The so-called Principality of Sealand, seven miles off the coast of Felixstowe and Harwich, was evacuated at lunchtime yesterdayafter a generator caught fire.
A FORMER wartime fortress which is now a self-proclaimed independent state has been left devastated after a fierce blaze tore through the structure.
The so-called Principality of Sealand, seven miles off the coast of Felixstowe and Harwich, was evacuated at lunchtime yesterdayafter a generator caught fire.
Thames Coastguard, Harwich RNLI lifeboat, Felixstowe Coastguard rescue teams, firefighting tug Brightwell, the RAF rescue helicopter from Wattisham and 15 Suffolk based firefighters from the National Maritime Incident Response Group (MIRG) were all called into action to tackle the blaze.
One man, believed to be a security guard, was airlifted from the scene and taken to Ipswich Hospital with smoke inhalation but no one else was on the Second World War gun emplacement.
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Emergency services were first alerted to the drama just after midday when eyewitnesses noticed huge clouds of black smoke billowing out of the concrete structure, which is owned by self-styled King Roy Bates.
Brian Ironman, who was fishing just off Sealand along with his dog Rosie, said he noticed something was wrong around 11.30am.
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“I'd been fishing nearby since 7am for smoothhound and tope and just before lunchtime I noticed there was a lot of smoke coming from the back end of the tower,” he said.
“I immediately thought something was wrong and called the coastguard straight away. They were here fairly quickly and there were about five or six extinguishers trying to put the fire out.
“The helicopter also arrived and I think it picked up one person who was on the platform.”
Andrew Beal, a council worker from Trimley who watched events unfold from his beach hut at Brackenbury, said: “There was thick black smoke billowing out of the gun emplacement. Air sea rescue was heading out at high speed and hovered over the platform and appeared to be taking someone off.
“There were several other vessels heading out, including a lifeboat, and there was a boat out there hosing it down. The smoke was hundreds of feet high in the air.”
Rod Markham, who runs angling trips out of Felixstowe Ferry in his boat Tracy Jane, was able to see the excitement from his house.
“At first I just thought they were stoking up the generators because there is always a bit of smoke - I never realised it was on fire,” he said.
“But when I looked back after I'd messed about a bit in the garden I saw there was a big deluge of black and that's when I saw the lifeboat and tug were there.”
Firefighting tug Brightwell from the port of Felixstowe was despatched to the scene and doused the flames with vast amounts of water.
A team of 15 off-shore firefighters from the National Maritime Incident Response Group (MIRG) were also assembled but after a reconnaissance of the area from the air it was decided it was too dangerous to land.
Keith Churchman, of Harwich Royal National Lifeboat Institution, said: “The damage is very extensive. The fire started in a generator and spread quickly to the accommodation.
“There have been a number of explosions on board as the fire has engulfed gas bottles and batteries. Only one person was on Sealand at the time, whom we understand to be a watchman whose job was to maintain the generators and equipment.
“A team of firefighters was flown to the scene but because of the damage to the structure they decided not to go on board.
“A firefighting tug sprayed the whole structure with water in the hope this would eventually cool the fire and starve it of oxygen.”
A spokesperson for Suffolk Fire Service confirmed the fire was left to burn itself out and was under control by 3.10pm.