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Ships work to control a fire onboard the MV Zim Kingston about eight kilometres from the shore in Victoria on Oct. 24.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

A container fire aboard a cargo ship off the coast of Vancouver Island was largely extinguished by Sunday afternoon, but a powerful storm is expected to delay the recovery of 40 containers that fell overboard.

JJ Brickett, federal incident commander with the Canadian Coast Guard, said Sunday that the latest imagery of the MV Zim Kingston showed that while some containers continued to smoulder, the fire itself appeared to have been extinguished. The vessel has been anchored in Constance Bank, about eight kilometres from shore near Victoria, since catching fire on Saturday.

“What they were attempting to do is let the fire burn down, in other words [let] the container consume itself with the fuel, while keeping everything else around it cool so it wouldn’t ignite,” Mr. Brickett said. “When we look at the imagery, we can’t see any scorching or charring of those adjacent containers, so that’s a really good sign.”

The Coast Guard first responded to the vessel at 11 a.m. on Saturday. At least 10 containers were hit by fire, including two that contained more than 52,000 kilograms of potassium amyl xanthate, a hazardous material widely used in mineral processing, according to the Coast Guard. Spokeswoman Michelle Imbeau said a full inventory of the containers and their contents will be conducted in coming days.

Sixteen crew members were taken off the ship and transported to Ogden Point, while five remained on board to support auxiliary operations and maintain anchor watch. Danaos Shipping Co., which manages the 13-year-old container ship, said that no injuries were reported.

An emergency zone of one nautical mile around the ship, established on Saturday, doubled to two nautical miles on Sunday. Mariners were advised to stay clear of the area.

On the weekend, a tugboat cooled the hull of the vessel by spraying it with cold water. However, it could not apply water directly to the fire because of the nature of the chemicals onboard, the Coast Guard said.

On Friday morning, the cargo ship was inbound for Vancouver when stormy weather caused it to list, dropping 40 containers into the water about 12 nautical miles off the west coast of Vancouver Island, near Bamfield. On Sunday, Mr. Brickett said a marker buoy dropped in the area to track the containers had them at between 22 and 27 nautical miles off shore.

“One of the objectives for the response is 100-per-cent accountability for all of these containers: where are they, what happened to them, what was in them, and, to the extent that we can, how can we recover them,” he said.

The Coast Guard said recovery of the containers may be challenging because of the weather. Environment Canada reported that a powerful windstorm hit much of West Vancouver Island and the south coast on Sunday afternoon, and would continue through midday Monday. Southeasterly winds were expected to exceed 80 kilometres an hour.

Peter Lahay, national co-ordinator of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, said he contacted Transport Canada on Friday and was told the federal agency would board the ship when it got to Vancouver.

“In my view, after such an extraordinary container spill, marine safety inspectors should have been aboard that ship on arrival. If they had, perhaps we would have known about the fire, or potential fire, sooner,” he said.

However, Mr. Lahay said he believes the agency is woefully underfunded and short-staffed, and as a consequence, too few inspections take place.

“Canada needs to do a better job being resilient and being better able to respond to these things,” he said. “We kind of wasted a day [Saturday] trying to figure out what to do to mitigate this fire, and we should have been more prepared,” he said.

The union has contacted the crew members brought ashore to Victoria to stay in local hotels to see if they need help, Mr. Lahay said.

“They came ashore without any [extra] clothes and we’ll assess what we need to do to assist this crew,” he said.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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