Zim Kingston just doesn’t want to go away

Zim Kingston might be last year’s news, but the reality is that the ship is probably nowhere near departing the west coast of Canada. Some of you might might still be interested in the container ship’s troubles, which persist, like the COVID.

In mid October, 2021, the ship encountered heavy seas off the coast of Vancouver Island, and several stack of containers collapsed, spilling 109, 40 foot containers into Canadian territorial waters. Why the lashing failed, is anyone’s guess, and of course, nothing new – no, really and sadly.

After the containers spilled into the ocean off Vancouver Island, the Zim Kingston was directed to anchor off Victoria, where a significant fire broke out in one of the forward stacks. That fire was eventually put out, and after a considerable delays, the ship proceeded to the Port of Nanaimo. The only realistic port of refuge that had the resources for such a salvage, but more importantly, the available berthing space.

While in Nanaimo, a considerable effort was brought to bear by its Florida based salvor, Resolve Marine, using mostly local contractors, from my observations. The heavily damaged containers that had collapsed and burned on deck, were removed from the ship and processed ashore. The waste was then left to local contractors to deal with. While untangling the aft stack of collapsed container, a second fire took hold, but was brought under control fairly quickly.

The ship left the berth at the Port of Nanaimo on Dec 30th, and is now at anchor off Nanaimo, seemingly waiting to unload the remaining containers, and get them to their customers. The Zim website shows it scheduled to offload at Deltaport, south of Vancouver, and leave Canada on the 14th of January. However, this is unlikely, as the ship’s cargo hold hatches remain onshore, at the DP World container facility, at the Duke Point section of the Port of Nanaimo.

Container ship Zim Kingston at anchor near Nanaimo, BC, Canada. Picture by Martin Leduc, Jan 2022

Flooded cargo holds

Welder repairing Zim Kingston’s hatch covers at the Port of Nanaimo. Picture by Martin Leduc, Jan 2022

Complicating matters, is that three cargo holds are apparently full of water. Its not unheard of to flood cargo holds to kill a fire, which is why I had asked Transport Canada (TC) in early December, what had happened to this waste water. They declined to comment, referring me to the ship owner for comment. When reached for comment, the ship’s agent, Navitrans Shipping Agency West, made promises to pass on my message – and I have received no comments from the “shipowner”.

The containers in the Zim Kingston’s three cargo holds (that I am aware of) have been submerged in seawater for almost three months now. The salvaged container processing area has been demobilized in Nanaimo, and the major signs of salvage operations are no longer evident.

One must conclude that Zim is hoping that Deltaport’s new container cranes will go “fishing”, and pull these waterlogged containers out, in Delta. These types of cranes are sensitive complex pieces of equipment, worth about 25-40 million dollars each. If I was a betting man, I’d say there is a high likely hood that Zim Kingston will be back to Nanaimo, to continue salvage operations of shipping containers in the near future, once the “good” containers are offloaded at Deltaport.

I’d love to see the ship’s stability calculation of three holds with a large amount of water, the free surface effect on stability will be significant. Or maybe Zim is planning to put containers in the flooded holds?

How much flooding we talking about?

Each 40 foot container has a volume of about 77 cubic meters, or roughly 78 tons of weight. If they were waterproof, the 104 containers lost overboard would have been located by now; so lets assume that most of the containers are full of seawater mixed with the cargo. That would produce up to 20,000 tons (plus) of contaminated water, according to my rough estimation. TC, or anyone else, is not mentioning anything of it. It is shipboard waste and under MarPol, needs to be treated before being discharged overboard. One has to wonder what Zim, or the ship’s owners / managers, whoever they are, plan to do with it.

Mangled wreck of containers from the Zim Kingston in Nanaimo, BC – the damaged blue container with dangerous goods that were not stated in previous news release from authorities. Picture by Martin Leduc, Dec 2021

What to do with it?

Typically, bilge water is treated onboard before being discharged overboard. These are long standing norms under MarPol, but mostly designed for oily contamination. These containers have been stewing for three months now, one must wonder what is the chemical composition of the water, is it safe to discharge overboard. Maybe they are planning to sail back to Israel, Greece, or Malta to discharge there – but I doubt it.

They sure can’t dump it in the US waters, the Vessel General Permit doesn’t really allow it. The basic premise is that it is a huge challenge for shipboard equipment, even it was chemically inert, to process. It is still a pretty big challenge to process that volume ashore in Nanaimo, or even Vancouver, certainly a logistical one.

Greek shipowners do have a quite a reputation on discharging wastewater at sea, but I wonder where the sea starts for them.

Regulators must be on top of this?

Based on my observations and experience, I don’t have much faith in the efficacy or transparency of Canadian regulators, so your guess is as good as mine.

In answering my questions – if TC had conducted an official Port State Control inspection on Zim Kingston, TC stated that they had carried out an inspection to comply with Canada Shipping Act (CSA). As of today, TC has yet to register a Port State Control inspection in the Paris MoU database. In further inquiries, TC stated that it was not on site at Duke Point, nor was it investigating the ships for any offenses under the CSA. Fair enough, after all, there’s apparently is no enforceable regulations about littering the coastlines of Vancouver Island, only highways.

They’ll do the right thing… right?

The Zim Kingston flies the Maltese flag, commonly referred to as a Flag of Convenience (FOC). Malta is the sixth largest “flag” in shipping with 2,637 ships flying its flag, according to Lloyd’s Intelligence report of 2019.

Zim Kingston is an older container ship, owned by what seems to be a “one ship” shell company. That ship is under charter to an Israeli shipping company, called Zim, and the ship may or may not be controlled by Greece’s Danaos Corporation, one of the largest “shipowners” in the world.

The whole idea of sheltering the one ship as its own company, is that in case of accident, the controlling interest, say, like Danaos, then calls itself the “manager” – hey, i just work here! As managers they are not responsible for the costs of an accident, only the Zim Kingston’s owner is. Entities looking for payment of damages or services rendered are therefore left with the only asset the actual company has, the vessel itself – if you manage to hold on it. The true beneficiary is therefore shielded to a large extent, from costs arising from “their” actions, or lack thereof.

These companies and corporation are really large when it comes to getting their way. Placing gag orders and otherwise strong arming government policies. As if magic, they become very small when you look at the fine print of whose actually responsible for anything.

Yeah, but its a huge corporation, making record profits?

Price of used container ships is highly inflated these days; I estimate the value of the Zim Kingston in the neighborhood of $25 million USD. If this accident’s claims exceeds the worth of the ship, why wouldn’t the legal beneficiary of the Zim Kingston’s voyages, just write this ship off its books – I don’t have any money, keep the ship! Especially true, since the other value onboard, the cargo, is no longer onboard.

The only federal agency that was reported and observed on site in Nanaimo, was Custom and Border Services Agency. I understand that is to make sure the containers and the product inside met their criteria for importation into Canada. They are not responsible for safety, health and environmental standards.

Damaged container aboard Zim Kingston in Nanaimo, picture by Martin Leduc, Dec 2021

So what’s the big deal

You may ask yourself, why are you so interested Martin? Well, because I love ships, I am a professional seafarer, I am really fascinated by the complexity of the machines, but also the business of it. I think people need to know, so they can appreciate the scale of the endeavor, and the impacts it has on their daily lives.

The Zim Kingston provides a test of sorts, of our regulatory, response and oversight mechanisms. Plus, I want my neighbors to get paid for their work and expertise. But mostly, I don’t want my natural surroundings damaged to enrich remote, opaque entities, whose only objective is to acquire more gold.

The mystery, gag orders, and efforts to stay out of sight by all involved in this salvage, is astonishing and a subject of another post. I don’t expect much from commercial entities such as these, to offer any voluntary insight on their activities. They do rely heavily on the overall infrastructure that Canadian taxpayers like myself generate, yet they contribute very little, if anything, to our national greater good.

Granted, there appears to be little nefarious going on, at least that’s my impression. But these entities have long operated in the shadows and are well versed at exploiting it, and if no one is looking, be sure they will push the boundaries. The lack of transparency and openness by our public agencies though – that has cause me to take particular notice.

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