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Coast Guard says fire aboard cargo ship near Victoria largely out, containers still drifting off Vancouver Island

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The Canadian Coast Guard on Sunday afternoon said a fire burning on board a cargo ship anchored off the coast of Vancouver Island, near Victoria, B.C., had been largely extinguished.

Dozen of containers, several of which contained hazardous chemicals used in mining, caught fire aboard the 260-metre-long M/V Zim Kingston on Saturday, prompting an emergency response roughly eight kilometers offshore.

“What they were attempting to do, is let the fire burn down,” said JJ Brickett, the federal incident commander for the Coast Guard.

“In other words, (let) the container consume itself with the fuel, while keeping everything around it cool,” Brickett added.

The Coast Guard evacuated 16 crew members on Saturday night, while another five remained onboard to fight the fire.

There are no reports of any injuries.

In a statement, the company that manages the Zim Kingston, Danaos Shipping Co., which is based in Greece, said the fire appeared “to have been contained.”

“Danaos have commissioned a Salvage & Fire Extinguishing Agency to come on board in order to ensure that conditions are appropriate for the safe return of the vessel’s crew,” the statement read.

Brickett said the ship’s owner so far had acted “responsibly.”

In a tweet Sunday morning, the Coast Guard detailed some of the challenges with the firefight, which lasted more than 24 hours.

“Due to the nature of the chemicals onboard the (ship), applying water directly to the fire is not an option,” the Coast Guard said, adding that it was expanding the emergency zone around the ship from one to two nautical miles.

According to officials, two of the burning containers contain potassium amyl xanthate.

A publically available safety data sheet from Redux, a chemical and ingredients distributor based in Australia, describes the material as a “spontaneously combustible solid” and warned that closed containers could explode from heat of a fire.

The safety sheet also added that cargo should not be moved if exposed to heat, firefighters should stay upwind, and firefighting water should not be allowed to reach waterways, drains, or sewers.

Zachary Scher, the provincial incident commander for the B.C. Ministry of the Environment said with the flames largely extinguished and smoke dissipating, “There’s no concern of harm to islanders from the fire.”

Sunday morning, David Boudinot, president of the Surfrider Foundation, a non-profit coastal protection organization, told CTV News he was worried about the potential for an environmental disaster along the shoreline.

“We are hoping that…the ship is able to be salvaged in a way we can have a good outcome,” Boudinot said.

Coast Guard officials said Sunday the ship would likely remain in place for at least the next day, with hazardous material firefighting experts to board and inspect the ship Monday at the earliest.

The vessel is anchored in a place called Constance Bank, directly south of Victoria, and to the east of Metchosin and Sooke.

Early Friday morning, the same ship lost 40 containers “when extreme weather caused an excessive listing,” according to a statement from Danaos.

The company said it appears the fire sparked in other containers that were damaged, but remained on board.

On Saturday, the Coast Guard indicated it was broadcasting warnings to mariners as it tracked the containers, which were some 22 kilometres off the coast of Vancouver Island, near Bamfield.

As of Sunday afternoon, Brickett said the seacans were some 50 kilometres west of the island, tracking parallel to the shore.

“None of our trajectories right now have any of those containers grounding,” he said, adding that it would be difficult to try to recover them with a significant storm blowing ashore over Sunday and Monday.

Brickett said that at least two of the 40 containers also contain toxic material.  

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