Container ship headed for N.S. evacuated as firefighting underway

The U.S. Coast Guard says the entire crew of a large Nova Scotia-bound container ship about 1,500 kilometres southeast of Halifax is being removed, with efforts underway to fight a fire that has been burning on the vessel since Thursday.

Tug from St. John's is heading toward Yantian Express with plans to tow ship to Halifax

The Yantian Express at Halifax's Fairview Cove container terminal in 2015. (Mac Mackay/Shipfax)

The 23-person crew of a large Nova Scotia-bound container ship bound for Halifax has been moved off the vessel due to a fire that has been burning since Thursday.

The international shipping company Hapag-Lloyd, which owns the Yantian Express, currently about 1,500 kilometres southeast of Halifax, said the fire started inside a container on the forward deck and then spread to several other containers.

"The fire has not been successfully contained yet and has significantly increased in intensity at times," the company said in a statement. It also said it's still unclear how much damage the fire has caused. 

On Sunday, 12 members of  the Yantian Express crew disembarked onto the Smit Nicobar, an offshore supply tug from Belgium, said U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua Canup. 

"It's simply because the fire is continuing. They have safety concerns just to go ahead and evacuate the crews. However, there have been no reports of any injuries," he said. 

Eleven of the crew members were already moved to the Smit Nicobar on Saturday. The tug's crew is now in the process of fighting the fire on the Yantian Express, with the aid of improved weather conditions, Canup said. 

The window for favourable conditions is expected to be short, with the potential that poor weather could return later Sunday, he said. High winds and swells hampered firefighting efforts Friday and Saturday

Meanwhile, Canup said another tug, the Maersk Mobiliser, is en route from St. John's to tow the 320-metre ship to Halifax. It's expected to arrive Sunday evening. He said it's still unclear when the ship would arrive in Nova Scotia.

Eight officers and 15 seafarers were aboard the ship, which was built in 2002 and is capable of carrying 7,510 standard 20-foot containers. It was travelling from Colombo, Sri Lanka, via the Suez Canal. 

A cargo ship from the Netherlands, the MV Happy Ranger, was on scene Friday to offer assistance, but left after the Smit Nicobar arrived Friday night.

Hapag-Lloyd and Coast Guard officials both say they're monitoring the situation closely. 

With files the Canadian Press