Published: 14 hours ago
Updated: 14 hours ago
The M/V Yantian Express is seen on Jan. 15. The ship’s cargo is still on fire and smoke and water can be seen coming from the ship. – Cameron Brunick
The Yantain Express, which caught fire Jan. 3 while bound for Halifax, now looks to be under tow.
The ship is travelling about 70 nautical miles or about 140 km a day, and is now headed for Freeport Bahamas. Transport Canada has not rejected the request for a place of refuge, however the salvors likely decided that Freeport offered a better climate and regulatory regime.
In a way, Canada has dodged yet another bullet and avoided having to deal with a significant maritime disaster since fire was at the bow of the ship, it is safe to assume that hazardous and noxious substance (HNS) cargoes are involved in the fire.
Unlike oil spills, Canada does not currently have a national plan for responding to incidents with HNS cargo.
Transport Canada is currently circulating a discussion paper for comments, as part of the Oceans Protection Plan. It then plans a phased approach for implementation of new rules.
The first phases would expand existing plans and procedures for dealing with oil spills to also address HNS releases. Real improvements are targeted to happen in years three and four, and include enhancing responder capability and training of local resources.
HNS cargoes present a whole range of complex problems. Different cargos behave differently when released, and require different safety precautions and cleanup methods. In a situation like the fire on the Yantain Express, there is also the concern about interactions when multiple unknown products mix.
To date, HNS incidents in Canada have been small, typically only involving a single container. A 2015 fire in a container containing an industrial disinfectant at Vancouver’s Centerm burned for several hours before it was brought under control.
Staff at some nearby businesses were advised to shelter in place until the fire was put under control. It took nearly 36 hours to fully extinguish the fire.
Halifax had its own HNS incident in 2014 when a bulkhead loaded with casks of a Uranium Hex failed and fell from the gantry crane back into the hold of the ship. While radiation was a concern, the product in those casks is far more dangerous as a toxic substance, causing burns on contact and death from inhalation.
None of the product was actually released; however the incident took two days to resolve, with a specialist cleanup team flying in from Toronto, and Halifax Fire’s Hazmat team on scene for the duration.
Imagine a worst-case scenario where that Uranium Hex cargo was involved in a fire. Should it mix with water, toxic and corrosive gas is produced. That adds a whole other dimension to the incident, and there are other cargoes that pass through the Port of Halifax that react poorly with water contact.
Complicating HNS cargo response, is the fact that heat and fire can destroy container marking and placards that would indicate what the contents of the container is. Additionally, shippers often miss-declare cargo as not being HNS, to get lower rates. This can result in hazardous materials where they are not expected, and cause additional problems.
Maersk has started a program where it will physically spot check the contents of certain containers to verify declarations, which is in response to a serious fire on one of its ships.
When the Yantian Express finally docks, the cleanup effort is going to be massive.
Hapag-Lloyd has said all temperature controlled goods in the front of the ship have lost power. There will be spoil. Individual containers will still be smoldering. The firefighting water in the holds likely contains a cocktail of HNS cargo, and can’t simply be pumped overboard.
In the end, incident response is local. Ignoring international frameworks, and national plans, Transport Canada needs to ensure that local resources are trained and available to deal with incidents with HNS cargo. Waiting for Toronto-based specialists is not really a good option.
The Oceans Alliance, consisting of container Lines COSCO, CMA-CGM, Evergreen and OOCL have announced the extension of their Alliance until 2027. The alliance, which formed in 2017, was initially for five years, with two five-year options for extension, both of which have now been exercised two years into the alliance.
Dredging work for the Halterm Expansion has begun.
Troms Sirius and Lundstrom Tide ended their charter to Horizon Maritime and were reflagged and sailed from Halifax. Both vessels were chartered from Tidewater for use during BP’s exploration program, which has since ended.
HMCS Ville de Quebec returned to Halifax Monday, after being deployed to the Mediterranean with NATO. HMCS Toronto sailed to take VDQ’s place on Saturday. HMCS Shawinigan and HMCS Kingston deploy on Tuesday for three months to West Africa.