Cargo Ship on Fire Near Victoria, Most Crew Taken to Safety

Officials say the crew of a cargo ship anchored near Victoria that caught fire Saturday morning may need to be fully evacuated.

Sixteen crew members were taken to Ogden Point Pier by the coast guard Saturday evening, though five other crew members remain on board.

A Canadian Coast Guard spokesperson said flames broke out on the MV Zim Kingston around 11 a.m. Saturday and were related to two damaged containers carrying hazardous materials. It is the same vessel that lost an estimated 35-40 cargo containers in rough seas west of Vancouver Island on Thursday.

In an update Saturday evening, the coast guard said that ten containers were on fire, including two carrying over 52,000 kgs of Potassium Amylxanthate, which is a hazardous material used in mining.

It added that a Hazmat team is mobilizing from Vancouver, while a coast guard ship and tugboat stay nearby to monitor the situation overnight.

The vessel is currently anchored in Constance Bank, a few kilometres south of the capital.

The coast guard has declared an Emergency Zone one nautical mile around the ship and is advising all other ships to stay out of that area.

A spokesperson for Maritime Forces Pacific said should the crew be fully evacuated, firefighting efforts would be led by other vessels.

“Any fire onboard a ship is a is a serious event and will garner a lot of attention and a lot of resources very quickly,” said Chamber of Shipping President Robert Lewis-Manning, adding it could take days to put the flames out.

Mr. Lewis-Manning said typically it is the responsibility of a ship’s crew to extinguish a fire.

“Their first action is to figure out what is happening on the vessel. It’s a big vessel. It’s 260 metres long or thereabouts, and it’s got thousands of containers on board, so trying to isolate where the problem is,” he said.

“The next step the crew would be concerned about is actually isolating the area and by isolating, I mean, they want to put a cooling boundary around wherever the fire is. It’s not necessarily attacking the fire.”

He said critical support from the coast guard and military would likely involve keeping the ship’s hull cool but could evolve to providing personnel support to the exhausted crew.

“If there is a positive piece to this, it’s one, it’s not very close to a municipal area like it would be if it were docked in a port like Vancouver and two, there’s a lot of resources locally,” he said.

The fire comes with powerful winds forecast to hit the Greater Victoria area Saturday night and Sunday morning, as a second “bomb cyclone” weather system moves into the region.

Environment Canada has issued a wind warning for the area, with easterly winds of up to 70 km/h developing in the Juan de Fuca strait, potentially challenging the firefighting efforts.

Zim Integrated Shipping Services, which owns the MV Zim Kingston, has contracted two ships for the salvage operation, according to the coast guard. They are expected to help with both the firefight and collecting lost shipping containers on Sunday.

On Friday, the U.S. Coast Guard said it had spotted a number of the lost containers floating at sea, some of them on the surface floating north.

U.S. and Canadian mariners are being urged to use caution at sea and to watch for the containers as a possible hazard.

The MV Kingston was in B.C. at the end of a voyage from South Korea.

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