The Canadian Coast Guard says the situation aboard a damaged vessel off the coast of Vancouver Island that’s carrying shipping containers of hazardous chemicals continues to be “dangerous and difficult,” with possible active fires inside some of the containers.
Stormy weather off the coast of Victoria, where the ship is anchored, have led to high seas, making it difficult for salvage crews to board the vessel. Officials said Monday there are no visible flames on the ship but smoke is still present, and that firefighters may find some active fires in the containers once they are able to board the ship.
They pointed out that there may be a window of calmer weather for salvage crews to get on board Monday evening.
A blaze broke out on Saturday aboard the MV Zim Kingston, a 13-year-old container ship.
Mariah McCooey, deputy federal incident commander with the Canadian Coast Guard, said the initial cause of the fire remains unknown and will be determined in coming days.
“There’s certainly no more open flame visible on the ship, which is really positive,” she said.
“The focus of everyone right now is harmonized around getting this situation under control, ensuring no loss of life, and limiting the damage to the environment, to the extent possible.”
No injury has been reported so far, she said.
In the meantime, 40 shipping containers that were tossed from the ship on Friday are drifting north and west off Vancouver Island. Authorities are not yet sure what is in all of them, although two are believed to contain mining chemicals, including potassium amyl xanthate, a hazardous material widely used in mineral processing.
Gillian Oliver of the Canadian Coast Guard said they are working with the U.S. Coast Guard and Transport Canada to track down the location of the containers. She added that they don’t anticipate the containers coming ashore, but that this possibility is not being eliminated.
Ms. Oliver said the cargo manifest is about 1,800 pages long and there is a wide range of products in the containers. She said officials have been working with the vessel owner to determine which containers were burnt and which have gone overboard, but that at the moment officials cannot provide accurate details of the contents of each container.
Zachary Scher, the provincial incident commander for the B.C. Ministry of Environment, said potassium amyl xanthate, the chemical believed to be in two of the containers, is water-soluble and would not be expected to be persistent in the environment. He said any aquatic impact would be expected to be acute and near their source of discharge.
Ms. McCooey said experts from federal and provincial agencies, local municipalities and First Nations continue to closely monitor the ecological impact of the incident and to recommend strategies for preventing and mitigating harm as events unfold.
She pointed out that there is currently no impact on human health for residents of Greater Victoria, but that officials are continuing to monitor the situation. So far, she added, there aren’t any identified risks to marine species, nor any fishery shutdowns being recommended at this time.
Ms. McCooey said the owner of the vessel is involved in the response and salvage effort, as required under Canadian law. But officials said they are not yet able to discuss the legal liabilities, specifically what the owner is liable for at this moment.
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.