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Fires in cargo ship off B.C. coast may take days to put out: coast guard

About 40 containers that fell off ship have been tracked to the northern tip of Vancouver Island
Ships continue to work to control a fire on board the MV Zim Kingston about eight kilometres from the shore in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, October 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

It may be several days before fires can be put out inside containers on a cargo ship anchored off Victoria, Canada’s coast guard says.

Meanwhile, about 40 containers that fell off the ship have been tracked to the northern tip of Vancouver Island about 440 kilometres away.

Paul Barrett, the planning section chief for the coast guard’s unified command, said there are at least five fires burning inside containers that are believed to be storing tires on the MV Zim Kingston.

“The firefighting crews are deploying individual tactics to fight these fires,” he said. “It’s currently estimated that two to three days are required to make the vessel ready for further salvage actions.”

Danaos Shipping Co., the ship’s owner, said in a statement Tuesday it is co-operating with Canadian officials and has contracted a firefighting company to help fight the fires.

The company said the trouble began when two containers on the ship caught fire, while another 40 fell into the water as it approached Vancouver, before it anchored for repairs in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The containers have been tracked moving northward along the west coast of Vancouver Island and the coast guard said some have been spotted off Cape Scott on the northern tip of the island.

Juan Jose Alava, the principal investigator with the University of British Columbia’s Ocean Pollution Research Unit, said Canadian officials need to be more proactive in tracking those missing containers.

“We should be more ready to find these containers,” he said in an interview from Ecuador.

Alava said it is important for officials to determine what exactly is in the containers to inform Indigenous and other communities in northern Vancouver Island that rely on fishing in areas that could be impacted by toxic materials in the containers.

Gillian Oliver, the coast guard’s advanced planning unit leader, said tracking buoys have been deployed in an effort to better trace the whereabouts of the missing containers.

She said some of the containers are expected to come ashore and asked any residents who may find one to report it to authorities.

Oliver did not provide details on what is in the containers, besides saying there were potentially toxic materials inside.

“We are still waiting for (the owners) to compile a list of the containers that went overboard and what is inside,” she said.

The containers are believed to be low in the water, and officials says large ships may hit them with a passing blow and not realize.

J.J. Brickett, the coast guard’s federal incident commander, said the vessel is able to operate but crews are taking a measured approach in ensuring the fires have been put out before it is moved.

Danaos Shipping’s statement said it has permission from the Canadian Coast Guard to allow technical experts and two marine firefighters on board the ship.

Barrett said there are 20 people aboard comprising a mix of crew and firefighters.

The coast guard says it is monitoring air quality along Victoria’s waterfront and has not recorded any unusual or dangerous changes caused by the fire.

Beckett said he wouldn’t speculate on the situation leading up to the containers falling off the ship, but added that the weather conditions were considered normal for a boat to be operating in.

—Nick Wells, The Canadian Press

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