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Ship fire offshore of Victoria appears to be under control but is still smouldering

The fire burning through containers on board the Zim Kingston ship moored offshore from Victoria appears to be under control but it continues to smoulder as firefighting efforts carried on Sunday afternoon.

The fire burning through containers on board the Zim Kingston ship moored offshore from Victoria appears to be under control but it continues to smoulder as firefighting efforts carried on Sunday afternoon.

It is not clear how many shipping containers burned in the blaze which started Saturday morning. They burned down to their shells and then collapsed into themselves, a Canadian Coast Guard official said Sunday during an information update.

Images from a Coast Guard helicopter did not show scorching of containers adjacent to the ones that burned, officials said.

Officials had said earlier that 10 of the 12-metre-long containers on the 260-metre-long deep-sea vessel were burning.

The ship is carrying 52,080 kilograms of potassium amyl xanthate in two of the shipping containers on fire. This product is used in the mining sector.

Spectators drawn to the event on Saturday could easily see huge plumes of smoke billowing off the ship. But by Sunday afternoon the amount of smoke and open flames were significantly reduced, said Paul Barrett of the Coast Guard.

The priority is to stabilize the scene and ensure the flames are out, officials said. Next, firefighters who are experts in dealing with hazardous materials will go on board and report back. That likely won’t happen before Monday.

A multi-agency command post, headed by JJ Brickett at Victoria’s Coast Guard base, has been established. Participants from all levels of government and First Nations will be monitoring everything from fire status to crew safety and environmental testings.

The command post is operating under the Canadian Shipping Act and Wrecked, Abandoned or Hazardous Vessels Act, Brickett said.

Work includes monitoring the status of 40 shipping containers, some containing hazardous materials, which tumbled off the ship when it listed in high seas on Friday in international waters off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Containers have since drifted into Canadian waters and are about 20 or so kilometres off shore, officials said. A GPS buoy was deployed to help track them. The federal government is supplying drifting models for both the smoke plumes from the vessel and the containers in the ocean.

Resolve Marine and Salvage, which has a base in Alaska, has been hired by the ship’s operator to help with firefighting and to salvage the overboard containers.

Danaos Shipping Co., which manages Zim Kingston, said in a statement from Greece the fire appears to have been contained.

Resolve Marine will come on board “to ensure that conditions are appropriate for the safe return of the vessel’s crew,” it said. Sixteen people in the 21-member crew were taken to Ogden Point on Saturday.

“Danaos has been working in close cooperation with the local port authorities from the very first, committed to following all actions necessary to mitigate the consequences of the incident,” the company said.

After the containers went overboard, the Zim Kingston was sent to Constance Bank, about eight kilometres off Victoria, where it is clearly visible from Dallas Road. People have been gathering with video and still cameras on Clover Point to watch the situation unfold.

A no-go emergency zone has been designated around the ship for other carriers, which have been relocated from that area.

Shipping lanes are not affected.

The ship reported a fire in several containers on Saturday morning. By 4 p.m., the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre ordered it be abandoned.

Five crew members remained on board at the request of the ship’s master to support ship operations and maintain a watch through the night along with Canadian vessels and to co-ordinate with those vessels.

Firefighting vessels shot water at the hull of the ship to keep it cool overnight and into Sunday.

An array of vessels from the public and private sector have been working around the ship. These include Canadian Armed Forces firefighting boats, tugs, and contracted large vessels most recently used by the Ocean Cleanup organization to capture plastics in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Air quality monitoring is underway and there will also be monitoring to see if contaminants reached the shore. Island Health is involved, a provincial official said. There is no concern that Island residents will be harmed by the fire, he said.

An environmental unit will looks for any impacts and recommend strategies as the incident unfolds.

Upcoming inspections will include the seaworthiness of the vessel, if it can be moved elsewhere and what repairs are needed.

It is unlikely that the Zim Kingston will move during the current storm. But if moving is required, numerous salvage tugs are on hand in case a rapid response is required, an official said. 

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Earlier story: 

A fire on board the container ship Zim Kingston, anchored at Constance Bank off Victoria’s coast, sent billows of smoke into the air for much of Saturday and forced the evacuation of some of its crew. It’s the same ship that lost 40 shipping containers when it listed in rough seas on Friday off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

The Canadian Coast Guard evacuated 16 people from the ship and took them to safety at Ogden Point. Coast Guard vessels Cape Calvert and Cape Naden were on duty to assess the situation and help out.

That left five people on board out of an original total of 21 crew members, Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre spokesperson Lieut. Pamela Hogan said Saturday night. Crew members left the vessel in two groups, with 10 leaving first, followed by the others.

No injuries have been reported.

The master of the vessel had not made an official call to abandon ship by Saturday night, she said.

The fire on the 260-metre-long Zim Kingston was reported at 11 a.m. Saturday. Crew on board tried but failed to put it out.

“I know they did attempt fighting it earlier today, but it was ineffective and I think that’s when they notified the JRCC [Joint Rescue Co-ordinator Centre].”

The centre had sent the Canadian Forces auxiliary vessel Firebrand from Esquimalt to the fire. It stood by for a time and left after it was determined that it was a hazardous-materials fire and water shouldn’t be used to fight it, the Seattle Times reported, citing radio traffic. The fire appeared to be caused by chemicals that had spilled from damaged containers.

Warnings were broadcast to marine traffic, advising vessels to stay clear of the area because of the danger of falling containers and toxic gas.

The ship had been on its way to Vancouver from Busan, South Korea.

Zim Kingston is carrying two shipping containers holding 52,080 kilograms of potassium amyl xanthate, said Michelle Imbeau, spokesperson for the Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which is responsible for the Canadian Coast Guard.

This product is used in the mining sector, where it assists in separating ores during what is called a floatation process.

Zim Kingston lost 40 containers overboard early Friday. They tumbled into the ocean about 70 kilometres west of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, west of Bamfield. The containers fell off the 13-year-old ship when it listed in heavy seas.

Warnings were issued to mariners to watch out for the containers, which could be partially submerged and not visible. Some containers carried hazardous materials.

American and Canadian coast guards vessels went to the area to look for the missing containers, and a satellite buoy was dropped into the water near the containers to help with tracking them.

On Friday at 10 a.m., a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter spotted 35 containers off Vancouver Island, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Diolanda Caballero.

“Two of the containers have been identified as carrying spontaneous combustibles,” said Caballeros. They held flammable metals and compounds that burn quickly and are hard to extinguish by water.

“They are currently drifting north but we can’t predict which way they will go because of the heavy weather. The bomb cyclone [storm] is around that area,” she said.

Five of Zim Kingston’s containers are still unaccounted for.

“We’re hoping for the best results, that it doesn’t affect mariners’ travel at all,” Caballeros said.

A U.S. Coast Guard broadcast to mariners urged them to exercise “extreme caution” in the area of the containers.”

Imbeau said a navigational warning was issued by the Canadian Coast Guard, informing vessels of the whereabouts of the floating containers as they drift.

Assessments from the agency will be conducted to determine if “pollution threats and hazards” will come as a result of the container spill.

— with files from the Vancouver Sun