Plans underway to remove container ship debris, but public urged to stay away

·3 min read
One of the shipping containers from the MV Zim Kingston that has washed up on the remote northwest coast of Vancouver Island. (Canadian Coast Guard - image credit)
One of the shipping containers from the MV Zim Kingston that has washed up on the remote northwest coast of Vancouver Island. (Canadian Coast Guard - image credit)

Efforts are underway to clean the beaches where container ship debris has washed up on Vancouver Island — but organizers are asking people not to try to clean it up on their own.

The debris comes from the MV Zim Kingston, which lost over 100 containers during a storm off the B.C. South Coast on Oct. 22. The next day, it reported that some containers still aboard the ship were on fire.

Since then, it has been anchored off Victoria, B.C., and the fire is out.

At least four of the lost containers have washed up on the northwest tip of Vancouver Island — near remote Cape Scott Provincial Park—spilling debris such as refrigerators, toys, and children's clothing. The coast guard says none of the four contain hazardous material.

The area is in the traditional territory of the Quatsino First Nation. Chief Tom Nelson says his people are ready and willing to clean up, but they need information. He's asking the coast guard to fly the coastline of the traditional territory, and report back on where it sees debris.

"That way, we can get to it, we can set up camp, whatever we need to do."

Karen Wristen is also organizing a cleanup.

The executive director of the Living Oceans Society, a Vancouver Island-based environmental group says she called coast guard and the shipping company as soon as she heard about the debris. She's also been in touch with Nelson.

Matthew Melnyk, a maritime lawyer based in Victoria, B.C., says according to Canadian law, people must contact what's called the "receiver of wreck" before they remove any maritime debris.

"If you come across any debris, any wreck, whether it's got value or not, or whether it's simply garbage, you're expected to call the receiver of wreck, which is part of the coast guard and follow their directions."

In the case of the MV Zim Kingston, the coast guard is asking people to report debris but not to touch it — at least in part because two of the containers that fell off the ship contain hazardous material. They don't know where those containers are, but they could wash ashore.

Wristen, with the Living Oceans Society, says people should not go ahead and clean up on their own. Not only is a co-ordinated effort the legal way to go, but it means the organization can keep track of costs and send a bill to the shipping company.

Given the remote location, she says, they'll pay to put people up during the cleanup. She also says an organized cleanup can have the debris removed by helicopter, which means the local landfill won't have to deal with it and the group can have it sorted so as much will be recycled as possible.

She says it's also a matter of safety.

While the rugged coastline is beautiful, it's also subject to intense weather.

"Storm surge on those beaches can be extraordinarily dangerous," said Wristen. "It's definitely work for people who are experienced and have some knowledge of tides and storm surge."

She says she hopes the contractor hired by the shipping company will work with her on the cleanup.

The coast guard says it is continuing aerial surveillance of the shoreline, but the remaining containers are expected to continue floating north along the B.C. coast. The shipping company has hired contractors to manage both shoreline cleanup and ocean recovery.

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