British Columbia

Canadian Coast Guard evacuates crew members from container ship off B.C. coast due to fire

The Canadian Coast Guard says multiple containers aboard a cargo ship, some containing hazardous material, continue to burn, eight kilometres off the coast of Victoria, after much of the crew was transported from the vessel.

16 crew members from Zim Kingston brought to Victoria, officials say

The Canadian Coast Guard says it received a call around 11 a.m. PT on Saturday about a fire that had broken out on two of the damaged containers on board the container ship Zim Kingston. (Canadian Coast Guard)

The Canadian Coast Guard and the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) in B.C. have evacuated crew members from a container ship anchored off Victoria after a fire began spreading on board Saturday.

The coast guard said it received a report around 11 a.m. PT of a fire on two damaged containers on the MV Zim Kingston, which had been bound for Vancouver. The ship, which is about eight kilometres from shore, had 10 burning containers as of 10:50 p.m.

The fire "appears to have been contained," the company that manages the ship said Sunday. Danaos Shipping Co., a Cyprus-based company, added that a fire extinguishing agency — U.S.-based Resolve Marine Group — has been commissioned to ensure the safe return of the vessel's crew.

Resolve Marine has mobilized two vessels that are expected to be on site Sunday.

On Saturday, the coast guard said the ship itself was not on fire.

Video obtained by Reuters showed fire cascading down from the deck of the ship into the water.

WATCH | Crew members evacuated from cargo ship off B.C. coast after fire:

Crew members evacuated from cargo ship off B.C. coast after fire

3 months ago
Duration 2:38
The Canadian Coast Guard said it received a report Saturday of a fire on two damaged containers aboard the MV Zim Kingston cargo carrier near Victoria. The ship had been bound for Vancouver. 2:38

According to a spokesperson from JRCC, 16 crew members were brought to Ogden Point Pier in Victoria. Five others, including the captain, remained on board at their own behest to fight the fire.

"An emergency zone has been established at Constance Bank within one [nautical] mile of the anchored container ship Zim Kingston," a notice on the Coast Guard's Navigational Warnings website said Saturday evening. "The ship is on fire and expelling toxic gas." It also warned that two fallen containers were floating nearby.

40 containers lost in rough waters

The ship first ran into trouble Friday, when it lost 40 of its shipping containers in rough waters, 70 kilometres west of the Juan de Fuca Strait, which separates Washington state and Vancouver Island.

The Coast Guard said Zim Kingston is carrying more than 52,000 kilograms of xanthates, which includes potassium amylxanthate, housed in two of the containers that are on fire aboard the ship.

The compound, which is used in mining, is classified by the U.S. government as "spontaneously combustible." Potassium amylxanthate is also toxic to marine life.

The coast guard said there is no risk to people on shore, but the fire is ongoing and an incident command post has been set up to manage the situation.

"The Canadian Coast Guard hasn't received any reports of any injuries," communications adviser Michelle Imbeau told CBC News.

"No injuries were reported," Danaos Shipping said in a statement to Reuters on Sunday.

It is unclear what caused the fire, but a lifeboat from the coast guard's Victoria station is near the Zim Kingston to act as a safety vessel.

Victoria Coun. Stephen Andrew tweeted that the fire chief told him the risk to public health from the fire is "extremely low."

"Should the situation deteriorate, the city is prepared to initiate public alert messaging."

Storm forecast to hit 

The Canadian Coast Guard said it was working with its U.S. counterpart to track the 40 containers that had fallen overboard, saying they pose a significant risk to mariners. Late Saturday, the containers were about 22 kilometres off the west coast of Vancouver Island, near Bamfield.

"Mariners are advised to stay clear of the area," the Canadian Coast Guard said, adding that high winds in Sunday's forecast could make it difficult to recover the containers.

"This is extremely concerning. The ship and containers are very close to Victoria, B.C., and a big storm is forecast to hit  tonight. We ... are worried this may be yet another environmental disaster," said David Boudinot, president of Surfrider  Foundation Canada, an environmental organization.

With files from Akshay Kulkarni, Reuters and The Canadian Press

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