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Crew members rescued as container ship burns off B.C. coast

Victoria -

A cargo ship was burning in the waters south of Victoria on Saturday, hours after the vessel dropped 40 shipping containers into the ocean west of Vancouver Island.

The coast guard was notified of the fire aboard the Zim Kingston around 11 a.m. Saturday.

Ten crew members were rescued from the vessel before 6 p.m. while six others were removed approximately an hour later, leaving five crew aboard overnight, according to a spokesperson for the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Victoria.

"The crew is mustered near their own lifeboats but the master hasn't made the call yet to abandon ship," said JRCC spokesperson Lt. Pamela Hogan.

No injuries had been reported Saturday evening.

The fire was sparked inside two containers of hazardous and readily combustible material that were damaged when the ship was tossed by rising seas Friday afternoon, according to the coast guard.

"Crew tried to put it out earlier today but they couldn’t do it themselves," Hogan said.

By late Saturday evening, 10 containers were burning, including two containers of potassium amyl xanthate, a chemical compound used in the mining industry, the coast guard said. 

The Malta-flagged vessel was inbound for Vancouver when it listed to one side, dropping the containers into the ocean near the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The coast guard responds to the fire aboard the Zim Kingston off Victoria. (CTV News)

"The situation is evolving," coast guard spokesperson Michelle Imbeau said Saturday evening. "Coast guard has been standing by making sure life and limb are OK."

Two coast guard vessels and an auxiliary firefighting vessel have been monitoring the ship and its burning cargo. Flames and heavy smoke were visible from the Victoria shoreline throughout the day.

"When the crew has evacuated, when there are no people left on the vessel, then they'll do some oceanside firefighting," Hogan said. 

Coast guard officials from both Canada and the United States issued warnings to mariners to keep clear of the Zim Kingston due to the danger of smoke and falling cargo.

A Transport Canada surveillance plane circled the smouldering vessel for much of the day Saturday.

The containers were adrift approximately 69 kilometres west of Vancouver Island just before 3 p.m. Friday, according to U.S. officials. (USCG)

The U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center sent out a broadcast to mariners Friday afternoon warning that the lost shipping containers may be partially submerged and not easily visible from the ocean's surface.

"Mariners should exercise extreme caution" when transiting the region, the centre warned.

The Canadian Coast Guard also sent out a notice on NavWarn about the debris drifting approximately 69 kilometres west of Vancouver Island.

Eight of the lost containers had been located Friday evening, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Coast Guard's 13th District in Seattle, Wash.

At least two of the lost containers contain hazardous materials that could spontaneously combust, the spokesperson said. 

The District of Tofino warned ocean-goers to "take extreme caution" due to the drifting containers over the weekend, saying on its Twitter account that the coast guard was monitoring the containers off the west side of the island.

"Some of these containers contain hazardous materials," the district said. "If spotted, please avoid and do not approach." Top Stories

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