Ship part

Debris from last fall cargo ship spill spreads along BC coast: Beach cleaners

The containers were lost from the Zim Kingston in a storm near the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca around the same time a fire broke out on the ship on October 22.

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TOFINO — A volunteer organization that cleaned up debris from a freighter that lost 109 containers off the coast of British Columbia last fall says the incident should be a wake-up call about the need for a more urgent action.

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Alys Hoyland, of the Pacific Rim chapter of the Surfrider Foundation in Tofino, said urinal mats, coolers and other cargo carried by the MV Zim Kingston in October continue to wash up on the west shore of the Vancouver Island.

Debris has been found as far away as northeast Haida Gwaii, hundreds of kilometers from the site of the spill, and Hoyland expressed concern that the longer it takes to clean up, the more material will degrade. and spread along the coast.

Beach cleaners still find hockey equipment in a container that fell overboard in the 1990s, she said, and the organization expects similar long-term consequences from the incident.

“This is going to be a slow-moving disaster for the coastline for many years to come,” Hoyland said.

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The containers were lost from the Zim Kingston in a storm near the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca around the same time a fire broke out on the ship on October 22.

Four containers carrying refrigerators and running shoes ran aground on northern Vancouver Island in November, but 105 containers have still not been recovered, the Canadian Coast Guard said in a statement. He confirmed reports of debris on Haida Gwaii and said the shipowner was conducting beach surveys.

A sonar scan of the area where the containers went overboard and an environmental risk assessment have not been completed, but planning is underway, the coast guard said.

A tug pours water over the container ship Zim Kingston after it caught fire off Victoria, BC, Canada October 25, 2021.
A tug pours water over the container ship Zim Kingston after it caught fire off Victoria, BC, Canada October 25, 2021. Photo by CANADIAN COAST GUARD /by Reuters

“The shipowner has hired a contractor to do the analysis, but they have to wait for a suitable weather window to complete the job,” he said.

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In Canada, polluters are required by law to pay for cleanup and the Coast Guard said the shipowner was part of a team leading the response. The Coast Guard forwards any public reports of debris to the vessel owner and ensures that proper cleanup takes place.

The owner has hired a salvage contractor to salvage containers and debris that wash ashore, and will check areas where debris has accumulated every few months, the Coast Guard said.

The ship’s manager, Danaos Shipping, said in an email that cleanup work by a contracted specialist was underway.

“The owner of the Zim Kingston continues to work with Canadian authorities to inspect the beaches where debris landed after the incident, respond to reports of new debris from the incident, scan the area where the containers went overboard and assess environmental issues,” the statement said.

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The ship has resumed normal operations, he added.

The Coast Guard said similar debris is likely to accumulate in specific areas and found items should be reported to its pollution reporting line.

The Coast Guard says the debris is similar to what was found in November and December, which includes Christmas decorations, clothing, toys, gym mats, boots and shoes, and refrigerator parts.

Hoyland said she would like to see the cargo spill, which includes plastics and other materials that can be harmful to marine life, addressed with the same urgency as fuel spills.

The longer it takes to recover the containers and their contents, the more difficult it will be to link them to that particular ship, she said.

As an example, she said she expects boxes containing Christmas decorations to degrade, releasing large chunks of polystyrene that she fears no one is responsible for cleaning.

“The longer these things stay in the ocean, the harder it is to identify them as container debris,” she said.

Groups like Surfrider consider long-term monitoring strategies and incorporate what is discovered into their annual cleanup plans, she said.

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