Zim Kingston’s cargo washes up on the beaches of Vancouver Island

Three months after 109 shipping containers were knocked off the cargo ship Zim Kingston while navigating rough seas off the west coast of Vancouver Island, 105 are still missing.

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 gradually faded. “I’m getting pretty discouraged.”

Epic Exeo is a Port McNeill based non-profit organization focused on beach clean-ups along the North Shore. Four of the containers were in the area on October 29, a week after going overboard.

Despite her expertise, Tapp said it was at least a week before she was asked to coordinate volunteer cleanups in the Cape Scott area.

Additionally, said Alys Hoyland, Surfrider Pacific Rim’s beach clean-up coordinator, the contractors hired by the shipowner to organize the beach clean-up were non-local and unfamiliar with the region’s geography.

“It took more than a week for any cleanup to begin,” she said. “And the longer it took for the cleanup to begin, the worse it got.”

At least two of the missing containers contained hazardous substances. Other content includes Christmas decorations, metal car parts, clothing, toys and industrial parts.

In early December, Hoyland said, gray rubber mats began washing up near Tofino in Florencia Bay and Hesquiaht Harbor, and there were reports of debris in Haida Gwaii, Yuquot and Long Beach.

Beach clean-up organizations have not received a list of what is in the lost containers. Without that, Hoyland said, it would be “incredibly difficult” to prove the extent of the spread or hold the shipowner accountable.

The Coast Guard said it was “not free” to share the manifesto, but noted that debris from Zim Kingston is “distinct” from regular marine debris — items such as plastic water bottles, fishing lines and nets, microplastics and hard plastic floats.

“Debris from the Zim Kingston continues to be the same type of material 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 obligated to pay for any cleanup efforts to “the satisfaction of the Canadian government,” the Coast Guard said.

By early December, about 100,000 pounds of debris had been removed from North Island beaches, the Coast Guard said. Until mid-December, beaches where debris had been reported were considered “clean”.

Tapp disagrees, saying the government’s definition of clean is “completely different from ours.”

When she returned to Cape Palmerston and Grant Bay on December 14, she found a pink inflatable unicorn, baby oil containers, cologne bottles, and Paw Patrol bike helmets with zip ties still attached.

“You can’t just clean a beach and then wipe your hands,” she said. “[Debris] Always comes back.”

Tapp said no one has contacted her since she was originally contacted in November.

“We’re already through mid-January … and no one has given me any plan as to what they’re going to do to move forward,” she said. “I haven’t had anyone reach out and ask if I was back out there.”

The Coast Guard said it will search for debris and will notify the shipowner, who is to check known accumulation sites every few months for debris “likely to be from the Zim Kingston.”

The Coast Guard said it is continuing to work with the shipowner on a plan to conduct a sonar scan of the area where the containers fell overboard and an environmental risk assessment.

“The shipowner has hired a contractor to perform the scan, but they will have to wait for a suitable weather window to complete the work,” the Coast Guard said.

Tapp said the weather is unlikely to change for the next few months.

“Until then, I’m worried that if they find shipping containers close to shore, they’ll leave,” she said.

Looking ahead, Tapp said she anticipates the debris would likely be the responsibility of coastal communities where it would wash ashore.

“It will contribute to our regular beach cleanup at this time,” she said. “It’s not what I want, but I can’t just let it be.”

– Ha-Shilth-Sa with files from Times Colonist

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