Crews are being forced to wait out mother nature before they can try and salvage more than 30 shipping containers that fell from the MV Zim Kingston cargo vessel.
The 13-year-old Malta-flagged cargo vessel was on its way to Vancouver from South Korea when it encountered rough seas off the coast of Vancouver Island and lost 40 containers on the morning of Oct. 23. It then anchored at Constance Bank, near Victoria, where damaged containers caught fire and have continued to burn since Saturday.
Both the Canadian Coast Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard have been tracking the containers, which are still drifting offshore, but any efforts to retrieve them from the sea have been thwarted by inclement weather.
“There is a gale-force [wind] warning in effect for today and tomorrow. So we’re just waiting for a window of opportunity where the vessel owner can then get out and attempt to salvage those containers,” Gillian Oliver, advanced planning unit leader with the Canadian Coast Guard, said during a virtual media press conference on Monday.
According to Oliver, the containers fell off when Zim Kingston began listing 35 degrees during inclement weather on Friday and are now drifting about 23 kilometres off the Island’s west coast.
“The containers are currently drifting approximately 12 nautical miles off the shore of Vancouver Island in a north northwest trajectory parallel with Vancouver Island,” said Oliver.
Shortly after the containers fell into the sea, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter dropped a data marker buoy in the area where they went into the water — providing officials with accurate tracking data — and overflight observations continue to be conducted by Transport Canada’s National Air Surveillance program.
Oliver said on Monday that the containers are unlikely to reach shore.
“We do not anticipate them coming ashore,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean there’s not the possibility of that happening. So the vessel owner has contracted a local company who is equipped to deal with any hazardous material that may come ashore or any container debris.”
Two containers that caught on fire contained 52,080 kilograms of potassium amylxanthate — a compound that is often used in the mining industry as a mineral processing agent — two containers that fell into the water contain materials that officials said Sunday would be something that “we would be concerned” about.
However, it remains largely unknown as to what was inside all the containers that fell into the water offshore, but unconfirmed reports have suggested the two containers of concern could have potassium amylxanthate inside them.
Zachary Scher, incident commander with B.C.’s ministry of environment, said should potassium amylxanthate leak into the sea, the impact to the marine ecosystem would be short-lasting and limited to the area close to the containers.
“[Potassium amylxanthate] is water-soluble, not expected to be persistent in the environment and any aquatic impacts are expected to be acute and near the source of discharge,” he said. “And, I know our environmental unit is being stood up and is looking into this.”
Oliver said the ship has a 1,800-page cargo manifest that contains a wide range of goods. She said officials continue to work with the owner to figure out what was inside the containers that went overboard.
“We’re working with the vessel owner to determine which containers were burnt and which have gone over,” she said. “So, at this time, we cannot give accurate details of what is in each container.”
MV Zim Kingston is owned by Greece-based Danaos Shipping Company Ltd. and charted by Israeli-based Zim Integrated Shipping Services. Danos has also hired Resolve Marine Group to carry out local salvage operations, including fire suppression as part of the response.
“The owner of the vessel is totally engaged and involved in the response and salvage effort. Under Canadian law, it is the vessel’s owner’s responsibility. So they have been cooperative and we are supporting that effort,” said Mariah McCooey, deputy federal incident commander.
Should anyone actually discover a shipping container onshore, they should call 1-800-889-8852 immediately, say officials.
Officials say the cargo manifest for the ship is 1,800 pages long. Some of the cargo onboard is potassium amylxanthate … as has been reported before.
— Nicholas M. Pescod (@npescod) October 25, 2021
We’re working with @USCGPacificNW to track the movement of containers from the #ZimKingston. The containers are currently drifting approximately 12 nm east of Vancouver Island on a northwest trajectory, parallel with the island. pic.twitter.com/07segYpZEC
— Canadian Coast Guard (@CoastGuardCAN) October 25, 2021