As efforts continue to clean up the contents of containers lost from a freighter off Vancouver Island last month, the supply chain impact of the damaged cargo hauler is starting to be felt.
Officials say 109 containers broke free from the MV Zim Kingston in rough weather on Oct. 21, along with an unspecified number that were damaged during a fire aboard the ship days later.
But the vessel’s entire manifest of some 2,000 containers remains held up and in unknown condition aboard ship.
“We really don’t know when we’ll be getting those products,” Clint Mahlman, president and CEO of London Drugs, told Global News.
Two of the containers aboard the Zim Kingston were filled with Christmas tableware — decorations, lights and other seasonal accoutrements — destined for shelves of the retailer across B.C.
Clean-up of debris from container ship Zim Kingston continues on Vancouver Island
Mahlman said London Drugs had been notified that the ship’s operator had declared “general average,” a convention under maritime law which dictates that losses due to emergencies at sea be split by the shipper and its clients.
In London Drugs’ case, that means they’ve been told to begin the insurance process, and Mahlman said it’s a safe bet none of the cargo will make it to stores by Christmas.
“It’s disappointing, given that we’ve planned this months and months in advance, and to not have this product available for our customers really hurts,” he said.
“It’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost sales and profit for London Drugs.”
The Unified Command responding to the MV Zim Kingston incident said yesterday the vessel was cleared to move to a moorage in Nanaimo or Victoria.
But it will likely be some time before contracted salvagers can unload the containers, inspect and assess them, and potentially release those that are undamaged.
While 2,000 containers constitute a tiny fraction of cargo shipped through B.C. — in 2018, the Port of Vancouver alone processed more than 3.4 million — for businesses that were counting on the arrival, it is a major disruption.
The vessel was carrying thousands of different goods, ranging from toys to clothing to automotive and industrial parts to furniture, according to the Canadian Coast Guard.
Vancouver Island-based Orca Book Publishers was expecting the arrival of five titles, 15,000 paperback books in all, in their non-fiction environmental Footprint Series for kids.
“The reaction was almost just laughter in a way, because it’s been such a challenging couple of years,” publisher Andrew Woolridge said.
Woolridge said he still doesn’t know if those books were among the containers lost or burned, but with the ship likely tied up for weeks, the company had to reorder the books from its Chinese printer.
Ship debris washes up on Vancouver Island
“It may still be on the boat, there’s lots of containers there,” he said.
“My big worry is all that water they’ve been spraying on the boat and sitting at sea for this long, I have a hard time seeing they’re going to be okay, but we’ve gone ahead and reprinted.”
Woolbridge said while his company tries to print as much of their titles in Canada as possible, some products — like certain hard-stock kids books — can’t be made in Canada, others are prohibitively expensive and that some Canadian orders can take up to six months to fill.
But he said the Zim Kingston incident has the company reassessing where and how they can further source Canadian products.
“We’ve made the choice because our schedules are so far ahead now, especially on new titles, we’re able to book far enough in, and we’re willing to pay a premium to print in this country because I think it makes sense,” he said.
“There’s no point in chasing the lowest price everywhere, that’s part of the reason we have some of the problems we have in the world today.”
Meanwhile, efforts to track the lost containers continue, though officials have only located four, leaving 105 — including two containing hazardous materials — unaccounted for.
On Friday, unified command confirmed that containers on two beaches within the remote Cape Scott Provincial Park had ruptured, spilling consumer goods and packaging onto the beaches.
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