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Report shows Canada was not prepared to manage Zim Kingston container spill

The cargo ship lost more than 100 containers in the Juan de Fuca Strait during a storm last year

By Jolene Rudisuela
October 14, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Report shows Canada was not prepared to manage Zim Kingston container spill

The cargo ship lost more than 100 containers in the Juan de Fuca Strait during a storm last year

The south coast of the Island drew international attention throughout October 2021 as the container ship the Zim Kingston lost over 100 containers overboard and then catching fire on the Juan de Fuca Strait. Here, Maersk ocean tugs fight the fire in high winds off the shores of Victoria. Photo by James MacDonald
The south coast of the Island drew international attention throughout October 2021 as the container ship the Zim Kingston lost over 100 containers overboard and then catching fire on the Juan de Fuca Strait. Here, Maersk ocean tugs fight the fire in high winds off the shores of Victoria. Photo by James MacDonald
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Report shows Canada was not prepared to manage Zim Kingston container spill

The cargo ship lost more than 100 containers in the Juan de Fuca Strait during a storm last year

By Jolene Rudisuela
October 14, 2022
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Report shows Canada was not prepared to manage Zim Kingston container spill
The south coast of the Island drew international attention throughout October 2021 as the container ship the Zim Kingston lost over 100 containers overboard and then catching fire on the Juan de Fuca Strait. Here, Maersk ocean tugs fight the fire in high winds off the shores of Victoria. Photo by James MacDonald

A parliamentary committee has released a list of 29 recommendations to improve the country’s response to cargo container spills after more than 100 containers fell off the Zim Kingston in the Juan de Fuca Strait last year. 

On Oct. 21, 2021, container ship the Zim Kingston sailed into some rough weather and reported to the Canadian Coast Guard it had lost about 40 containers at the mouth of the strait. A week later—after hazardous containers on board the ship had caught fire off the coast of Victoria—that initial estimate of lost cargo was increased to over 100 containers. Four containing refrigerators and shoes washed up on the northwest coast of the Island; two of the lost containers, which were not found, contained hazardous materials. 

In January of this year, in light of this incident, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans agreed to initiate a study on the effects of cargo container spills on Canada’s marine environment and ways to improve responses to cargo spills. This month, the results of that study were released. 

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The spill didn’t cause any fisheries closures, and the two containers containing hazardous materials—potassium amylxanthate and thiourea dioxide—only posed a limited risk, according to the report. DFO scientists explained that any chemicals that escaped from the containers would be quickly dissolved and diluted by saltwater. 

The larger concern is the plastic materials and polystyrene foam that were added to the marine environment, where they could stay for centuries, the report says; however, the long-term effects of these materials is still not well understood. 

Polystyrene foam and plastic pellets are “much more insidious and have much more long-term impact than even oil,” said Stafford Reid, environmental emergency planner and analyst with EnviroEmerg Consulting. 

The Narwhal reported earlier this year that an average of 1,382 containers were lost at sea each year between 2008 and 2019. But last winter, that number rose to more than 3,000. 

Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of storms, which could be a factor in the increase in spills. However, the Narwhal article points out that the industry does not have strong regulations. 

The standing committee report recommends that the federal government invest more in monitoring and understanding the role of ocean plastics in the marine environment, while banning the use of polystyrene foam in packaging used on cargo ships. The report also suggests adding requirements to include tracking devices in shipping containers to help monitor lost cargo and hold responsible parties accountable. 

Spill response

According to the report, response to the incident was poor, with slow communication to coastal communities and a lack of firefighting and spill response. 

Poor internet and cell reception in more remote areas of Vancouver Island and the surrounding Islands made it difficult for some coastal communities to receive updates consistently. Karen Wristen, executive director of Living Oceans Society, also told the standing committee that a lack of information about what was in the lost containers makes it difficult for coastal communities to assess the risk and plan a response if containers were to wash up on shore. Indigenous communities and cleanup groups are not currently integrated in the spill response. 

The report asks that the federal government work with Indigenous communities and other groups on spill response, and international organizations to require that ships more accurately identify the goods they are transporting to port authorities. 

When it comes to spill response, Reid told the committee that Canada currently doesn’t have the equipment necessary to find and salvage lost containers. 

“None of the major salvage providers in the world reside here,” he said. “We don't have any storage depots for large salvage equipment that's required, which you can put on a vessel or helicopter.”

Alarms were also raised about firefighting capability. While the Canadian Coast Guard intervened about five hours after the Zim Kingston fire started, it took 18 hours for an emergency towing vessel with firefighting capability to arrive. 

The report recommends that the federal government improve firefighting capabilities for marine fires, look at options for better salvage response, and create better plans to deal with spills of hazardous materials. 

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