Canadian Coast Guard evacuates crew members from container ship off B.C. coast due to fire

October 24, 2021
Canadian Coast Guard evacuates crew members from container ship off B.C. coast due to fire

The Canadian Coast Guard and the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in B.C. have evacuated crew members from a container ship anchored off Victoria after a fire began spreading on board Saturday.

The coast guard said it received a report around 11 a.m. PT of a fire on two damaged containers on the MV Zim Kingston, which had been bound for Vancouver. The ship, which is about eight kilometres from shore, had 10 burning containers as of 10:50 p.m.

“The fire continues to spread, however; as of this update, the ship itself is not on fire,” the coast guard said in a statement.

Video obtained by Reuters showed fire cascading down from the deck of the ship into the water.

According to a spokesperson from JRCC, 16 crew members were brought to Ogden Point Pier in Victoria. Five crew members remained on board as of Saturday night to fight the fire.

“An emergency zone has been established at Constance Bank within one [nautical] mile of the anchored container ship Zim Kingston,” a notice on the Coast Guard’s Navigational Warnings website said Saturday evening. “The ship is on fire and expelling toxic gas.” It also warned that two fallen containers were floating nearby.

The ship first ran into trouble Friday, when it lost 40 of its shipping containers in rough seas, 70 kilometres west of the Juan de Fuca Strait, which separates Washington state and Vancouver Island.

The Zim Kingston is pictured burning on Saturday afternoon. (CHEK News)

The Coast Guard said Zim Kingston is carrying more than 52,000 kilograms of xanthates, which includes potassium amylxanthate, housed in two of the containers that are on fire aboard the ship.

The compound, which is used in mining, is classified by the U.S. government as “spontaneously combustible.” Potassium amylxanthate is also toxic to marine life.

The coast guard says there is no risk to people on shore, but the fire is ongoing and an incident command post has been set up to manage the situation.

“The Canadian Coast Guard hasn’t received any reports of any injuries,” communications adviser Michelle Imbeau told CBC News.

It is unclear what caused the fire, but a lifeboat from the coast guard’s Victoria station is near the Zim Kingston to act as a safety vessel.

Victoria Coun. Stephen Andrew tweeted that the fire chief told him the risk to public health from the fire is “extremely low.”

“Should the situation deteriorate, the city is prepared to initiate public alert messaging.”

The Canadian Coast Guard said it was working with its U.S. counterpart to track the 40 containers that had fallen overboard, saying they pose a significant risk to mariners. Late Saturday, the containers were about 22 kilometres off the west coast of Vancouver Island, near Bamfield. 

High winds were expected on Sunday, which could make recovery of the containers difficult, the Canadian Coast Guard said.

“This is extremely concerning. The ship and containers are very close to Victoria, B.C., and a big storm is forecast to hit  tonight. We … are worried this may be yet another environmental disaster,” said David Boudinot, president of Surfrider  Foundation Canada, an environmental organization.

Data firm Eikon Refinitiv shows the Maltese-flagged Zim Kingston is managed by Cyprus-based Danaos Shipping Co. Ltd.

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