Canada container ship fire: ‘bomb cyclone’ storm may hinder effort to assess damage

Blaze on freighter ship has been largely contained, but officials won’t be able to determine damage amid wind and rain

Last modified on Mon 25 Oct 2021 12.50 EDT

Emergency crews have largely contained a chemical fire aboard a container ship anchored off western Canada, but warned a looming “bomb cyclone” storm could complicate efforts to fully assess damage to the ship and surrounding marine ecosystem.

The blaze broke out on Saturday aboard the MV Zim Kingston, a freighter ship carrying mining chemicals, including potassium amylxanthate – a hazardous substance used to help separate ores.

Sixteen crew members were evacuated, while five remained onboard to fight the fire.

Because water could not be used to attack the flames, teams sprayed cold water on the ship to keep it cool and prevent the fire from spreading to other containers.

By Sunday, the blaze had become a smoulder and at least 10 containers were fully burned through.

“We can’t see any scorching or charring of those adjacent containers. That’s a really good sign,” commander JJ Brickett told reporters. “The fire is smouldering as you would expect, and we’re continuing to cool on either side.”

But the Canadian coast guard warned it would not immediately be able to assess the full scope of damage to the ship and surrounding marine ecosystem. The region was also due for a “bomb cyclone” storm, with rain and wind gusts predicted to exceed 70km/h (43mph).

“In the unlikely event that she does move her anchor, we have numerous salvage tugs … and there are precautions made onboard so that tow can effectively be made very rapidly,” said Brickett, adding that ships were nearby to monitor the vessel.

All vessels had been ordered to keep at least two nautical miles away from the ship and aircraft were barred from flying lower than two nautical miles overhead.

The ship, which was anchored eight kilometres (five miles) off the coast of Victoria, also lost an estimated 40 containers earlier this week following what the company said were “very heavy weather conditions”.

US coast guard officials warned that floating containers posed a threat to other ships. Some of the metal containers, painted dark blue, were difficult to spot amid the choppy dark waters.

The Canadian coast guard said it had reached out to coastal First Nations communities to help in the recovery efforts for the lost cargo – some of which could also hold hazardous material – but any recovery will have to wait until the storm subsides.

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