Container Ship Catches Fire off Coast of Victoria; 109 Containers Still to Be Recovered

Some may have smelled the aftermath on the West side of San Juan Island as a Canadian container ship caught fire off the coast of Victoria. The islands dodged a bullet as the ship did not go any farther north reaching and did not reach Haro Strait.

On Oct. 23 at 11 a.m. the Canadian Coast Guard responded to the container ship M/V Zim Kingston, which had come from South Korea. The fire is suspected to have started from damaged goods being transported in one of the containers, leading to ten more catching fire. The fire has since been contained, but salvage contractors are still seeing evidence of fire in some of the containers. CCGS Captain Goddard M.S.M and the tug Seaspan Raven stayed to monitor the situation. So far, 109 containers have been reported to have fallen overboard.

Communication Advisor for the Canadian Coast Guard Michelle Imbeau said, “The drift modeling shows the containers all traveling in a northwest direction parallel to the West Coast of Vancouver Island. We don’t expect any will go south. Four landed at the top of Vancouver Island yesterday, as we had predicted.”

Director of the Island Oil Spill Association, Tony Parkin, said he wants to remind community members of the ship that caught fire in Sri Lanka a few months ago. This ship completely caught fire. When this happens, and the flames reach the hull, oil will most likely be spilled, Parkin said.

For this fire, there was no oil spill detected. To illustrate a “what if” model and raise awareness, Parkin created an oceanographic model to show where the oil would reach with wind speed and direction. Parkin said, if oil were spilled, it might have reached the islands today with the wind changing direction.

“Honestly, if it didn’t happen further north on the Haro Strait. I think the islands would have been pretty severely impacted,” Parkin said. “So I think we dodged a bullet there.”

In fact, it is not uncommon for the ships to head up through Haro Strait towards Stewart Island and turn right towards Vancouver.

“If that would have happened up there, it would have been AWFUL,” he remarked.

He said that while fumes reached the west side of San Juan Island, False Bay is a very environmentally sensitive area because it is a mud bay.

“If oil got in there, it would last forever and ever,” he said. If that were to happen, he said IOSA has the proper equipment to hopefully keep the oil out.

M/V Zim Kingston had 4.2 of Xanthates (Potassium Amylxanthate) in two of the shipping containers that were on fire, ending up as particulates in the atmosphere. So far, air monitor readings at 32 sites in Victoria are all below detection limits.

According to Imbeau, the rest of the containers that fell overboard contained toys, clothing, industrial and automotive parts and furniture.

“Unified Command expects that some of the containers have sunk and the Environmental Unit will assess the remaining container contents for potential impacts,” Imbeau said.

While the shipowner has hired a salvage contractor to recover the containers, no containers have yet been recovered.

After handling the fire and the fumes, to ensure the safety of the crew, 16 members of CCGS Cape Calvert and CCGS Cape Naden were transported to Ogden Point. Currently, five crew members remain to fight the fire.

The vessel is anchored in Constance Bank, near Victoria and approximately 8 km from shore, according to a statement from Unified Command.

An Emergency Zone has been set up for 1 Nautical Mile (NM) around the ship.

Containers are still showing up around the coastline. It is believed that 106 containers fell overboard while 2,000 containers remain on board and 1,000 on deck. They are mostly being found around the west coast of Vancouver Island. As stormy weather has been brewing and is set to approach over the weekend, the CCGS is putting in effort to locate all of the containers before they can drift any further. Part of these efforts include crews being on site on Sunday along with a Hazmat crew mobilizing from Vancouver.

“The safety of the remaining crew on the ship, and the responders on the water, is the top priority as the response operations proceed,” concluded the Unified Command statement. “Unified Command is working through the Emergency Management BC network through local communities to broadcast public safety information as required.”

IOSA is a small organization based in the Islands. They are in need of more volunteers. If interested visit their website

Photo Courtesy of the Canadian Coast Guard.

Photo Courtesy of the Canadian Coast Guard.

Photo Courtesy of the Canadian Coast Guard.

Photo Courtesy of the Canadian Coast Guard.