Load Star - Zim Kingston 20th - 23rd Oct with markers
Tracking of Zim Kingston, midnight 20 October to midnight 23 October. Courtesy of VesselsValue.

Maritime experts in Vancouver have questioned the movement of the damaged Zim Kingston, prior to the vessel being hit by a storm, and why it had not entered the safety of sheltered waters.

This, it is claimed, may have prevented the stack collapse that precipitated the fire in board last weekend.

International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) convenor Peter Lahay told CTV News that the vessel was “tracking” outside the Juan de Fuca Strait at around 2.5 to 3 knots immediately before the storm, as can be seen by the VesselsValue AIS tracker, above.

“I suspect that if the ship had come into sheltered waters at 9-10 knots, none of this [container losses and fire] would have happened,” said Mr Lahay.

Fearing a ‘fudged’ report, Mr Lahay said he had written to the Canadian Transportation Safety Board (CTSB) asking for the investigation to be conducted by the Canadian body, rather than to leave it in the hands of Malta, the flag state where the Zim Kingston was registered..

“We are aware the vessel held position off the entrance to Juan de Fuca for some 20 hours before coming in after reporting the loss of approximately 40 containers. This has led to the fire, which has consumed vast resources of Canadian Coast Guard, Transport Canada and private assets,” wrote Mr Lahay in the letter, seen by The Loadstar.

According to the ITF representative, as the governing body, Transport Canada has been reducing the number of anchorages in the Juan de Fuca strait, which is south of Vancouver Island, because of complaints of noise and light pollution from moored vessels.

However, this is not strictly correct, according to Robert Lewis-Manning, president of the Canadian Chamber of Shipping (CCS), who told The Loadstar: “Transport Canada has not changed the rules and there is no regulation reducing ship anchorages in the in the Straits of Juan de Fuca. But Transport Canada has an intention to reduce those anchorages.”

Mr Lewis-Manning confirmed that straits traffic was overseen by both the Canadian and US coastguard services, with the border running through the middle of the strait, and that the USCG would lead vessels into sheltered waters prior to heavy weather.

“There were a number of containerships in the area at the time and they were prompted by the USCG, which then let them into the Strait. I don’t know if the USCG reached out to the Zim Kingston, but many ships took that option,” explained Mr Lewis-Manning.

The questions here are: did the USCG reach out to the Zim Kingston; and if it did, why did its master choose to remain in open water?

Moreover, radio messages between the Zim Kingston and the Canadian Coast Guard reveal that the agency had advised the master of the now-stricken vessel to abandon ship. This is a very unusual step for rescuers, as such a decision is normally left to the captain of a vessel. So what did the coastguard see that led to this advice?

In response to questions from The Loadstar, Danaos said: “As with every incident, this will be investigated in depth by the company in due time. Right now, the priority is to have the fires extinguished so that the vessel can enter the port to unload its cargo.”

However, the expectation is that Zim Kingston will not discharge in Vancouver. Mr Lahay believes the vessel will head to a port where the process will be far cheaper and the handling of dangerous goods less-well regulated.

According to local reports, the two containers that caught fire contain potassium amyl xanthate, an organo-sulphur compound used in mining.

A Canadian company’s material safety data sheet concerning this compound states: “Upon exposure of solid xanthates to moisture and/or heat, decomposition results and spontaneous combustion can occur. Contact of solid xanthate with moist air has resulted in ignition. Emits a flammable gas upon contact with water or water vapour. Can decompose at high temperatures forming toxic gases. Powdered material may form explosive dustair mixtures.”

Meanwhile, Mr Lewis-Manning praised the Maersk and other support vessels that happened to be in the vicinity for their prompt actions, which apparently prevented the fire spreading.

“Having those resources around was very fortunate,” he said.

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