Sixteen people have been evacuated from a containership operated by Israeli carrier Zim whose cargo caught fire off the coast of northwest Canada.

The fire broke out in 10 containers on Saturday after the 4,253-teu Zim Kingston (built 2008) ran into trouble in bad weather en-route from Busan in South Korea to Vancouver, Canada.

Israeli carrier Zim confirmed in a statement that "dozens of containers" fell overboard on Friday 22 October after which the vessel had been ordered to anchor off the Canadian coast.

"Most crew members were evacuated from the vessel, and a few stayed on board to assist with the firefighting efforts. All crew members are reported safe," it said.

Chemicals on board

Some of the containers were carrying chemicals which had hampered fire-fighting efforts, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) reported.

On Sunday several tugs attempted to cool the vessel's hull by spraying it with cold water, but the efforts were hampered by the toxic cargo.

"Due to the nature of chemicals onboard the containership, applying water directly to the fire is not an option," the CCG reported.

An Incident Command Post has been set up to manage the situation and to recover the containers that broke away from the ship on Friday.

Zim charters the vessel from US-listed Greek containership owner Danaos.

The vessel operates as one of several ships between Asia and the West Coast of North America on a service operated together with 2M partners Maersk and Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC).

"Following the damage to some containers on board, a few containers caught fire," Zim said on Sunday.

"We are closely coordinating with the vessel's owners, the Canadian authorities and other relevant agencies, while working under heavy weather conditions, to handle the incident.

"Our main concern is the safety of the crew and prevention of environmental impact."

Zim said its commercial team was in touch with customers and keeping updating them on developments.