Crew had been advised to abandon ship after being told that the flame was headed toward the interior.
On Sunday evening, a chemical fire broke out aboard the container ship “Zim Kingston” near Victoria in British Columbia.
A Canadian Coast Guard officer told the ship’s radio operator, citing the view from the surveillance aircraft overhead, that “flame is appearing on the inside rows (of containers). The crew is focusing on the outside containers. The flame is headed toward the interior. Over.”
Initially eight of the 21 crew members were evacuated to shore by the Cape Calvert. Just before 6 p.m., the captain could be heard on the radio requesting evacuation of four or five more crew members “that I don’t need.”
However, the Coast Guard radioed back: “The advice is that you completely abandon, including all crew and captain. Over.”
UPDATE: After what was described to me as a small explosion on board the burning #ZimKingston which shifted some of the containers on the deck, the crew is now requesting 4-5 more crewmembers be evacuated by the Canadian Coast Guard. 10/21 members of the crew were removed earlier pic.twitter.com/1UD2tkLWvs
— IntelWalrus (@IntelWalrus) October 24, 2021
The radio operator replied that about six containers were now on fire and that the crew was “trying to extinguish them with maximum water.”
“Had been advised not to deploy any water”
However, shortly afterward, the Coast Guard informed the radio operator that the firefighting vessels sent to help the smoking ship “had been advised not to deploy any water” to fight the fire on board due to the nature of the hazardous material.
Canadian Coast Guard spokesperson Michelle Imbeau identified that as potassium amyl xanthate, a pale-yellow powder widely used in the mining industry. The ship’s manifest indicates that the containers held 57 tons of it.
Flammable, explosive and poisonous
According to safety information about this chemical, exposure to heat and moisture may cause decomposition “to release flammable, explosive and poisonous” carbon disulfide vapors.
Imbeau said that of the hundreds of containers piled on the ship’s deck, only four contained this combustible material, two of which fell in the ocean while two were damaged but remained on deck and started the fire.
She said the Coast Guard received a report that a fire had broken out around 11 a.m. Saturday.
The containers lost overboard meanwhile had drifted northward toward Vancouver Island and were all in offshore Canadian waters Saturday, away from the main shipping lanes, Imbeau said.