Damaged containers aboard the Zim Kingston could burn or smolder for days, Canadian Coast Guard officials said, as the boat remains anchored five miles from Victoria, B.C.
As of Tuesday morning, six firefighters and seven crew boarded the ship, and “it may take several days to fully suppress smoldering and fires inside the containers,” the agency tweeted. Air-quality monitors found no detectable fumes reaching shore.
The fire was discovered Saturday, after the vessel listed and spilled containers early Friday near the Strait of Juan de Fuca, in heavy swells.
Out at sea, salvage workers need calm weather before they can retrieve some 35 containers that have been bobbing near the strait, the Canadian Coast Guard said Monday.
The containers are drifting parallel to shore, about 12 miles off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island near Tofino, B.C., based on aerial tracking.
“Current modelling indicates that the containers will not come ashore,” authorities said.
Two reportedly contain toxic chemicals. Efforts are still underway with a salvage team and the ship owner to identify which containers went overboard and which burned in a Saturday fire.
Monday was the third day officials responded to the fire, that involves hazardous material. It’s been identified as potassium amyl xanthate, a pale-yellow powder used in the mining industry. In all, 57 tons were aboard in four containers — two that dropped overboard and two that caused the onboard fire at 11 a.m. Saturday.
If released, potassium amyl xanthate “may be capable of forming flammable dust clouds in air,” says the product’s Canadian materials safety data sheet. “Contact of solid xanthate with moist air has resulted in ignition.” Exposure would irritate the eyes and throat, or in severe cases damage the liver, nerves and cardiovascular system.
The 853-foot-long ship, which left South Korea on Oct. 5, lost 40 containers in all when it listed 35 degrees in a storm, on the way to Vancouver, B.C. Five containers were unaccounted for Monday.
Firefighting crews have sprayed water on the deck to cool it, but avoided dousing the volatile chemical.
Canadian cutters evacuated 16 people from the ship on Saturday, while five crew members stayed aboard Sunday night.
A brick-colored liquid surrounds the ship, and was flowing into the strait without containment, in a photo by the Canadian Coast Guard.
That substance isn’t identified yet, as responders focused on fire suppression and lifesaving, said spokesperson Michelle Imbeau.
“Due to conditions on scene, safety of responders, and dispersion within the water column, it is not practical to boom the area at this time,” she said in an e-mailed response Tuesday morning.
They mentioned that Resolve Marine, a Florida-based company with international experience salvaging capsized ships, is part of the response off Vancouver Island. Company video shows a technique where huge barges with cranes pull up alongside a wreck.
Retrieving containers should be similar to raising a sunken boat, Imbeau said, and perhaps easier because containers have lifting points. They would be hoisted onto a barge or ship rather than towed.
Under Canadian law, the polluter is responsible to complete the cleanup, and in this case is cooperating, Imbeau said.