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Bulk carrier fire under control, no contaminants of concern on shore

Officials don’t yet know what caused a fire aboard an anchored bulk carrier off the coast of Victoria on Saturday morning, but the Canadian Coast Guard said the fire has been controlled and six firefighting salvage experts from Resolve Marine boarded

Officials don’t yet know what caused a fire aboard an anchored bulk carrier off the coast of Victoria on Saturday morning, but the Canadian Coast Guard said the fire has been controlled and six firefighting salvage experts from Resolve Marine boarded the vessel Monday evening.

Seven crew members were also transferred back to the ship.

Firefighting crews had been prevented from boarding the Zim Kingston due to high winds and large ocean swells. The vessel, which lost 40 containers when it listed in bad weather on Friday morning off the west coast of Vancouver Island, has been anchored at Constance Bank off Victoria since Saturday morning.

Mariah McCooey, deputy federal incident commander for the Canadian Coast Guard, said while the situation has improved, it’s still very dangerous and difficult.

“It looks like the containers that were burning are now smoldering — there’s certainly no more open flame visible on the ship,” McCooey told reporters during an afternoon briefing after surveying the site from a helicopter. “We still don’t know what the initial cause of the fire was, but this will be determined in the coming days.”

Paul Barrett, planning section chief of the unified command team dealing with the situation for the coast guard, said the carrier remains stable and four other vessels — tugs, tow ­vessels and supply vessels — are staying with the Zim ­Kingston for fire-suppression, tow standby and boundary-cooling, which involves lightly spraying water at the hull and containers.

While there are no visible flames, Barrett said there is a large amount of smoke and fires could still be burning inside some of the containers.

Zachary Scher, the provincial incident commander for the Ministry of the Environment, said crews have been on shore from Dallas Road to Esquimalt Lagoon since Sunday afternoon to monitor air quality, and haven’t recorded any “contaminant of concern” at levels that are a risk to public health. Monitoring is expected to continue.

Crews will also be dispatched to the incident site.

McCooey said the incident response team has established an environmental unit with experts from federal and provincial agencies, local municipalities and First Nations that is monitoring ecological impact, as well as offering strategies to prevent and mitigate any further harm.

“There are currently no impacts to human health for residents of Greater Victoria, but we are continuing to monitor the situation,” she said, adding that there are also no identified risks to marine species based on assessments so far.

It is not clear how many ­shipping containers burned. They burned down to their shells and then collapsed into themselves.

The contents of all of the burned containers or those lost overboard on Friday isn’t known, but two that burned held potassium amyl xanthate, which is used in the mining industry.

Scher said the material is water-soluble and not expected to be persistent in the environment, although any aquatic impacts could be acute near the source.

Gillian Oliver, advanced planning unit leader with the coast guard, said the containers that went overboard are being tracked via aerial surveillance, a tracking beacon dropped by the U.S. Coast Guard and commercial vessel sightings.

The containers are drifting about 12 nautical miles off the west shore of Vancouver Island.

Oliver said the containers are not expected to come ashore, but she warned that if they do, anyone who finds them should alert authorities, as they may contain hazardous materials.

The vessel’s operators plan to attempt to salvage the containers.

Oliver said the coast guard is working with the vessel’s operators to determine what is in the missing containers and what burned aboard the vessel, ­noting the cargo manifest is 1,800 pages.

McCooey said the ship’s owner has been co-operative and engaged in the process.

In a statement, Greece-based Danaos Shipping said it “has been working in close ­co-operation with local authorities from the very first, committed to following all actions necessary to mitigate the consequences of the incident.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com