Three months after 109 shipping containers were knocked from cargo ship Zim Kingston while it was travelling through rough seas off the west coast of Vancouver Island, 105 are still unaccounted for.
Ashley Tapp, co-founder of Epic Exeo, said her initial optimism that the ship’s owner would be held accountable for the missing containers has begun to fade. “I’m starting to get pretty discouraged.”
Epic Exeo is a Port McNeill-based non-profit focusing on beach clean-ups along the north coast. Four of the containers were located in the area on Oct. 29, one week after they went overboard.
Despite her expertise, Tapp said it took at least a week before she was asked to co-ordinate volunteer clean-ups in the Cape Scott area.
On top of that, said Alys Hoyland, Surfrider Pacific Rim beach clean co-ordinator, contractors hired by the ship’s owner to organize beach clean-ups were not local and were unfamiliar with the geography of the area.
“It was more than a week before any kind of clean-up effort started,” she said. “And the longer it took for the clean-up to start, the worse it got.”
At least two of the missing containers contained hazardous materials. Other contents include Christmas decorations, metal car parts, clothing, toys and industrial parts.
In early December, Hoyland said, grey rubber mats started washing up near Tofino in Florencia Bay and Hesquiaht Harbour, and there have been reports of debris at Haida Gwaii, Yuquot and Long Beach.
Beach clean-up organizations have not been given a list of what is in the lost containers. Without that, Hoyland said, it’ll be “incredibly hard” to prove the extent of the spread, or to hold the ship’s owner accountable.
The coast guard said it is “not at liberty” to share the manifest, but noted that debris from Zim Kingston is “distinct” from regular marine debris — items such as plastic water bottles, fishing rope and nets, microplastics and hard plastic floats.
“Debris from the Zim Kingston continues to be the same type of material that was originally seen in November [and] December, including Christmas decorations, clothing, toys, gym mats, boots and shoes, refrigerator parts, and other everyday items,” it said.
The polluter is required by to pay for any cleanup activities to the “satisfaction of the Government of Canada,” the coast guard said.
As of early December, about 47,650 kilograms of debris had been removed from northern Island beaches, the coast guard said. By mid-December, beaches where debris had been reported were “considered to be clean.”
Tapp disagrees, saying the government’s definition of clean “is completely different from ours.”
When she returned Cape Palmerston and Grant Bay on Dec. 14, she found a pink blow-up unicorn, baby oil containers, cologne bottles and Paw Patrol bike helmets with zip ties still attached.
“You can’t just go and clean a beach and then wipe your hands of it,” she said. “[Debris] keeps coming back.”
Tapp said no one has reached out to her since she was originally contacted in November.
“We’re already past mid-January … and I’ve had nobody tell me any kind of plan as to what they’re going to do to move forward,” she said. “I’ve had no one reach out and ask if I’ve been out there again.”
The coast guard said it will monitor for debris and alert the ship’s owner, who is to check the known accumulation sites every few months for debris “likely to be from the Zim Kingston.”
The coast guard said it continues to work with the ship’s owner on a plan to conduct a sonar scan of the area where the containers went overboard, as well as an assessment of the environmental risk.
“The vessel owner has hired a contractor to conduct the scan but they need to wait for an appropriate weather window to complete the work,” the coast guard said.
Tapp said the weather likely isn’t going to change for another few months.
“By then, I worry that if they’re finding shipping containers that are close to shore, they’re going to be breaking open,” she said.
Looking ahead, Tapp said she suspects the debris will likely become the responsibility of the coastal communities where it washes ashore.
“It’s going to add into our regular beach cleaning at this point,” she said. “That’s not what I want, but I can’t just leave it.”
— Ha-Shilth-Sa with files from the Times Colonist