Container fire on freight ship near Victoria mostly under control, says Canadian Coast Guard

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The Canadian Coast Guard says it received a call around 11 a.m. PT on Saturday about a fire that had broken out aboard the container ship Zim Kingston. (Michael Mcarthur/Submitted - image credit)
The Canadian Coast Guard says it received a call around 11 a.m. PT on Saturday about a fire that had broken out aboard the container ship Zim Kingston. (Michael Mcarthur/Submitted - image credit)

The Canadian Coast Guard says the container fire that broke out Saturday on a freight ship off Victoria is "smouldering" and mostly under control, and an investigation will be soon be underway to assess damage.

During a media briefing Sunday, the federal incident commander with the Canadian Coast Guard said the fire aboard Zim Kingston has burned the affected containers down to their shell.

"We've just had a Coast Guard helicopter overtop and the majority of the fire is almost out. What we still see is smouldering, but we can't see any scorching or charring out of the adjacent containers," JJ Brickett said.

He said response vessels spent the night cooling the boat's hull with water, but responders could not douse the flames directly because of the chemicals in the cargo.

"What they were attempting to do was let the fire burn down ... while trying to keep everything around it cool," he said.

Two of the burning containers on the ship's deck held hazardous material identified as potassium amylxanthate, according to the Canadian Coast Guard, which is listed as a "reactive flammable material" by the Canadian Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System.

Brickett says on Monday, firefighters will specifically assess the vessel for any remaining hazardous material.

"Basically corner to corner they'll look at if there is any continual fire, what's still smouldering and move from there," he said.

Storm forecast for region

In preparation for the strong wind storm that's forecasted for the region Sunday, Brickett says crews stationed both on and off the ship are monitoring it to make sure it doesn't move overnight.

"In the unlikely event that she does move her anchor, we have numerous salvage tugs ... and there are precautions made on board so that tow can effectively be made very rapidly," he said.

In a statement, ZIM Integrated Shipping Services, which operates the 13-year-old vessel, said that on Friday it "encountered very heavy weather conditions."

"The vessel reported dozens of containers that fell overboard," and several other containers caught fire, the firm said.

"Most crew members were evacuated from the vessel, and a few stayed on board to assist with the firefighting efforts. All crew members are reported safe.… Our main concern is the safety of the crew and prevention of environmental impact."

The Joint Rescue and Coordination Centre in Victoria said 16 crew members were safely taken off the ship, while five others, including the captain, remained on board at their own behest.

Michael Mcarthur/Submitted
Michael Mcarthur/Submitted

Canadian Coast Guard spokesperson Michelle Imbeau said an Incident Command Post led by the Coast Guard on behalf of the federal and B.C. governments, as well as First Nations representatives, was co-ordinating a multi-agency response to the incident.

The incident began Saturday when U.S. authorities reported roughly 40 containers adrift in the ocean off Washington state, after they fell overboard from the ship.

WATCH | Crew evacuated from ship after fire:

Brickett said the location of some of the containers is being monitored and will be retrieved by a salvage company hired by the ship's owners.

But efforts to recover them can't start until after the forecasted storm, he said.

"One of the objectives for the response is 100 [per cent] accountability for all of these containers — where they are, what happened to them, what was in them. And to the extent that we can, how can we recover them,'' Brickett said.

Containers still floating

With some heavy winds in the area, the U.S. Coast Guard says they'll continue to monitor the containers that fell overboard Friday and mitigate the possibility of a vessel getting into the area and creating more challenges.

"I have not been briefed yet if there is any plan for the U.S. Coast Guard to help with any salvage recovery," officer Diolanda Caballero told CBC News.

"As of now, we are working to monitor the containers that are afloat and continue to make sure that they are far away from mariners."

The Canadian Coast Guard, meanwhile, said it was working through the Emergency Management BC network to broadcast public safety information as required.

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