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Shipping container debris washes up near Tofino

Debris from shipping containers lost at sea has washed up on beaches and shorelines in the Tofino area, raising concerns about potential contamination.

'I don't know how we are going to clean it up,' says local environmentalist

The force of the ocean reduced shipping containers, likely from the Hanjin Seattle cargo ship, to pieces before showing up on beaches in the Tofino area in November 2016. (Paul Freimuth/Ukeedaze)

Debris from shipping containers lost at sea has washed up on beaches and shorelines near Tofino, B.C., raising concerns about potential contamination.

The debris is likely from the Hanjin Seattle cargo ship that lost 35 empty containers in rough seas near the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca on Nov. 3.

At least one of the pieces of debris has a Hanjin logo.

​Dan Lewis with the environmental group Clayoquot Action spotted some of the shipping container pieces on the weekend while kayaking off Vargas Island Provincial Park, northwest of Tofino.

Some pieces of shipping container debris that have washed up between Tofino and Ucluelet include refrigeration units. (Paul Freimuth/Ukeedaze)

"Sheets of metal with foam pieces breaking up into smaller and smaller and smaller pieces," Lewis said of the debris he spotted.

"I'm really concerned because we are having very high tides right now, huge storm surf coming in, and these logs at the top of the beach are getting tossed and are grinding all this foam up into tiny little bits. I don't know how we are going to clean it up." 

Other pieces of debris have been found between Tofino and Ucluelet.

Some of the debris displays the logo of the shipping company Hanjin. (Paul Freimuth/Ukeedaze)

Paul Freimuth, a photographer and co-owner of the Ukeedaze magazine, was planning to shoot a surfing video when he spotted parts of containers on beaches and rocks between Tofino and Ucluelet.

"It looked like the whole bottom and one of the end walls, and there was a refrigeration unit in it and a bunch of wiring and stuff," he said.

"I almost guarantee that they are leaking because it's just been broken into several pieces so I don't see how it would survive that on the rocks without breaking open and leaking coolant or whatever is in there."

Debris from shipping containers lost at sea has washed up on Long Beach near Tofino. (Paul Freimuth/Ukeedaze)

Pacfic Rim National Park Reserve affected

Several partial containers have come to rest in parts of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, but it's not yet clear how widespread the debris might be along the park's 125 kilometres of coastline, said resource conservation manager Renee Wissink.

"We are working with our own staff and volunteers to try to get out and get to as many of these areas as we can," he said.

"There's many little pocket beaches and headlands in some really isolated areas, so it does pose for us a fairly difficult task to get out there and first of all find it all, and secondly retrieve it."

Debris from one of the broken containers is sitting on Long Beach near Tofino. (Paul Freimuth/Ukeedaze)

Styrofoam insulation from the containers is also fouling beaches and shoreline, Wissink said.

"Some of that could become ingested by marine or terrestrial wildlife and that could pose, potentially, a hazard. So I think it's the styrofoam at this point that is causing the most irritation," he said.

Owner responsible for containers

The Korean shipping company Hanjin filed for bankruptcy in September. Many of its vessels are anchored in ports around the world, waiting for instructions on where to dock.

With the company's financial troubles, people are concerned about who will pay to clean up the debris from the containers that have washed up on the shorelines around Tofino, Lewis said.

Transport Canada said ship owners are ultimately responsible for their containers.

In a statement, the agency said officials have contacted the owner of the vessel to ask about plans for the retrieval and salvage of the containers, but they have not received a response.

About the Author

Megan Thomas

Reporter

Megan Thomas is a reporter for CBC in Victoria, B.C. She covers stories from around Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. Follow her on Twitter @meganTcbc.