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UPDATE: Container ship still smouldering as storm hampers firefighting efforts

Crews have been dousing a chemical fire onboard MV Zim Kingston off Victoria since Saturday
The fire on the container ship Zim Kingston anchored near Victoria has been stabilized as of Oct. 24. Five crew members remain onboard. (Courtesy Canadian Coast Guard)

The Canadian Coast Guard says a fire aboard a container ship off the coast of Victoria continues to smoulder.

The coast guard says in a statement posted on social media that a salvage crew from Resolve Marine is on the scene, but the wind storm that lashed Vancouver Island and the south coast has prevented anyone from boarding the ship.

At least 10 containers on the MV Zim Kingston caught fire on Friday, while another 40 fell into the water and efforts to pick them up are being hampered by the storm.

The coast guard says emergency responders continue “boundary cooling,” spraying water on the hull and on containers near the fire, although flames are considered under control.

Some of the containers that burned contained hazardous materials, however the coast guard says there are no impacts to human health for residents of the Victoria area.

The Kingston, a Greek-based ship, had reported damage as it approached Vancouver and it anchored for repairs in the Strait of Juan de Fuca before reporting the fire to the coast guard.

B.C.’s Environmental Emergency Response Program is monitoring the air quality impact of the fire.

“Right now, air quality monitoring is being set up on shorelines and vessels to monitor determinants of concern for public health,” said response program spokesperson Zachary Sher during a press conference Sunday afternoon. “Island Health is monitoring the situation at this time, and there’s no concern of harm to islanders from the fire.”

Since 11 a.m. Saturday morning, the Canadian Coast Guard and other local vessels have been dousing a container fire that ignited on the cargo ship about 12 kilometres off the coast of Ogden Point.

Two of the 10 shipping containers ablaze carried 57 tons of Xanthates (Potassium Amylxanthate), which the Canadian Coast Guard classified as a hazard material requiring the evacuation of 16 crew (save for five who remained to combat the fire and maintain the ship). One milligram of the chemical in a litre of water is toxic to aquatic life, according to a 2009 study from the University of Nebraska.

According to Sher, an environmental unit of experts from federal, provincial, and municipal agencies and Indigenous nations has received the task of “closely monitoring any ecological impacts of the incident and recommending appropriate strategies for preventing harm to the environment as the incident unfolds.”

Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard and satellite tracking systems are tracking smoke pollution, while Environment and Climate Change Canada is modelling the location of the 40 cargo containers sent overboard Thursday by rough seas, Sher said.

READ ALSO: Emergency zone doubled as crews continue to battle fire on cargo ship off of Victoria coast

READ ALSO: Fire on cargo ship off Victoria’s shore leads to crew evacuation as 40 containers fall overboard

Two marine laws – the Canada Shipping Act and Wreck Abandoned Hazardous Vessels Act – hold the vessel’s owner as responsible for costs associated with damages under either, Canadian Coast Guard spokesperson JJ Bricket said during the conference. Greece’s Danaos Shipping Co., the liable company, “has been very responsible,” in managing the crisis thus far, he said, by quickly engaging salvage operations and activating local assistance to fight the blaze. “That’s a very typical scenario for vessels,” Bricket said.

Bricket said shipping between Vancouver, Seatle and Victoria has continued as normal following the establishment of an emergency zone of two nautical miles around the vessel currently anchored in Constance Bank.

— with a file from CP

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