Written by Staff Writer
(CNN) — A ship carrying nearly 140 tons of heavy industrial equipment for the construction of a pipeline in B.C. has caught fire off the northern coast of Canada.
The Panama-registered Maran Centaurus is about 500 nautical miles off the coast of British Columbia, near the coastal community of Tofino, reports said. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Images sent to CNN affiliate CBC show flames shooting above the container vessel, and black smoke wafting into the air. Three crew members were able to escape, but up to four additional crew members were unaccounted for as of the early evening, according to CBC.
The National Transportation Safety Board said the incident took place Friday evening, but initially only provided details of the ship’s transponder.
The ship owner, Sorenson Shipping, confirmed the vessel was on fire and on course to miss Tofino.
“The ship was burning, crew members and cargo were able to get off, however with fire and water there was no further chance of finding others,” Sorenson’s director of sales, Stuart Oatley, told CBC. “The remaining crew and cargo are currently at a helipad near Port Coquitlam and the emergency response is underway.”
The shipment was intended for TransCanada Pipeline Corporation’s $15.7 billion Northern Gateway project, an ambitious undertaking aimed at shipping Alberta’s bitumen to the Pacific Coast for export.
TransCanada is working with emergency responders to deal with the incident, the company said in a statement.
“TransCanada has not been notified of any casualties or serious injuries,” the statement said. “Our main focus now is the well-being of those involved.”
The disaster comes as protesters against the pipeline try to derail the project, worried about the potential adverse effects of oil spills in pristine areas and the environmental damage that can occur when such a project is approved.