Cason (until 1978 Finn-Leonhardt) was a cargo ship, under a Panamanian flag, carrying 1,100 tonnes of various toxic and flammable chemicals. On 5 December 1987 the ship caught fire off the coast of Galicia, Spain. 23 of the 31 crew died, including the captain. The ship grounded off Cape Finisterre and broke up.

Name: Finn-Leonhardt
Builder: Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft, Flensburg, Germany
Completed: 1969
Identification:IMO number6916976
Name: Cason
Route: Antwerp - Shanghai
Acquired: 1978
Identification:IMO number6916976
Fate: lost: grounded and broke up
General characteristics
Type: Cargo ship
Tonnage: 9,191 tonnes (9,046 long tons; 10,131 short tons)
Tons burthen: 15,250 DWT
Length: 136.84 metres (449.0 ft)
Beam: 21.06 metres (69.1 ft)
Crew: 31
Anchor from Cason, preserved as a memorial at Fisterra

Fire and wreckEdit

Cason was en route from Rotterdam to Shanghai with a cargo of various chemicals loaded at Hamburg, Rotterdam and Antwerp. The ship was owned by a Hong Kong company and registered in Panama. Of the 31 crew, the captain and chief engineer were from Hong Kong and the remainder Chinese. Shortly before dawn on 5 December 1987 an explosion occurred 23 miles off the Spanish coast at Cape Finisterre, setting the ship on fire. The captain broadcast an SOS about an hour later, and those crew not caught by the flames jumped into the sea to escape. All but eight died, including the captain and one woman.[1][2][3][4] The ship grounded on rocks 150 metres (450 feet) offshore, still burning,[1][3] and broke up.

Initial reports were that the deaths were mainly from drowning and hypothermia; the local hospital later reported that one drowned but the remainder died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Survivors said that the lifeboat mechanism failed to work, as a result of which many crew members jumped into the water wearing lifejackets. The initial explosion was said to have been caused by the cargo shifting in heavy seas.[5]

Rescue operation and aftermathEdit

The Finisterre Red Cross launch and helicopters from the local air rescue service, the Spanish Navy, and Madrid were all involved in recovering bodies and searching for survivors. In addition British, Italian, and Danish ships rescued some survivors. One crew member who remained missing until the search was suspended at nightfall was found dead the next day.[4][5] The weather remained stormy, complicating efforts to tow the ship; in the evening it ran aground on Punta do Rostro, an offshore shoal.[5] The bottom of the ship was holed such that it was not feasible to refloat it.[6] Because of the presumed risk of further explosion, tugboats and cranes were then ordered to remain clear. After it was determined that the cargo included inflammable gas, inflammable liquids and a poison, three tugboats and two specialised cranes on floating platforms were assembled to attempt recovery and precise identification of the cargo.[3] Cargo recovery began on the afternoon of 9 December,[7] with drums of ortho-cresol and formaldehyde, but the weather became stormy again, stopping the work and causing more drums containing sodium to break and catch fire, some of them after being washed overboard.[8] No evacuation of residents of the coastal area was initially ordered, but hundreds left, especially after the weather worsened,[7] and after further explosions in the hold beginning on 10 December caused a toxic cloud,[9] thousands fled and school buses were provided as transportation.[10][11] Ultimately 15,000[12] or 20,000[13][14] people evacuated.

The cargo included approximately 5,000 barrels, other containers, and bags containing inflammable substances (xylene, butanol, butyl acrylate, cyclohexanone, and sodium—contact of the sodium with water was the cause of the fire), toxins (aniline oil, diphenylmethane di-isocyanate, o-cresol, and dibutyl phthalate), and corrosives (phosphoric acid and phthalic anhydride).[12][15] The inflammable liquids comprised at least 2,000 barrels stored in four of the five hold compartments.[7] The nature of the cargo was initially unclear, but the Spanish newspaper El País identified it as "several tons of a sodium compound, 110 tons of aniline oil, 6 tons of ethanol (grain alcohol) and 10 tons of an inflammable liquid of Grade 9 (maximum) danger", and the governor of A Coruña, Andres Moreno Aguilar, confirmed the list as accurate.[3] There were rumours of nuclear material.[16][17] Recovery of the dangerous substances that had not been swept into the sea by waves was completed on 12 December, after a deck was removed to access the deep tank where the aniline was stored. There were three injuries and one case of mild aniline poisoning among the salvage workers.[18] A large portion of the cargo was not recovered;[12] what was, was taken to the Alúmina-Aluminio plant in San Cibrao, causing alarm among the workers.[13][17]

It was the worst sea disaster in the region since the Norwegian tanker MV Polycommander ran aground near Vigo in 1970, also killing 23 crew members,[2] and was studied in 2014 by the Polytechnic University of Catalonia as one of the worst chemical disasters of the 20th century in Spain.[13][14]

The accident demonstrated the need for adequate packing of sodium when being shipped, and also the inadvisability of using trade names for chemicals, which led to confusion.[8]

An anchor from Cason has been preserved on the quay at Fisterra with a memorial plaque.


  1. ^ a b "Fatal Ship Fire Puzzles Spanish". The New York Times. Reuters. 7 December 1987.
  2. ^ a b "Twenty-two die as ship fire forces crew into Atlantic". UPI. 5 December 1987.
  3. ^ a b c d "Smoldering Ship Probed in Spain". AP. 8 December 1987.
  4. ^ a b "Freighter Catches Fire Off Spain; 23 of Crew Killed". Los Angeles Times. 6 December 1987.
  5. ^ a b c "25 años de la tragedia del Casón frente a las costas gallegas". El Ideal Gallego (in Spanish). 5 December 2012.
  6. ^ José Antonio Madiedo (1989). "Experiences and Findings in Connection with the Casualty Involving the Ship CASON". In P. Bockholts; I. Heidebrink (eds.). Chemical Spills and Emergency Management at Sea: Proceedings of the First International Conference on "Chemical Spills and Emergency Management at Sea", Amsterdam, the Netherlands, November 15–18, 1988. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. pp. 305–13. ISBN 9789400908871.
  7. ^ a b c "Un incendio con 23 muertos". El País (in Spanish). 11 December 1987.
  8. ^ a b Björn Looström. "Cason: Maritime chemical accident" (PDF). Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  9. ^ According to Madiedo, the former Director General of the Spanish Merchant Marine, there was no toxic cloud: José Antonio Madiedo (21 December 2012). "Las fabulaciones sobre el accidente del buque 'Cason'". La Opinión A Coruña (in Spanish).
  10. ^ "Las declaraciones oficiales incrementaron el desconcierto". El País (in Spanish). 11 December 1987.
  11. ^ "Miles de personas huyeron, en absoluto caos, de la nube provocada por la explosión del 'Cason'". El País (in Spanish). 11 December 1987.
  12. ^ a b c "Spills: Cason". Centre of Documentation, Research and Experimentation on Accidental Water Pollution (Cedre). 8 February 2007. Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  13. ^ a b c "El 'Casón', a examen 26 años después". GCiencia (in Spanish). 13 May 2014.
  14. ^ a b "A study reviews Spain's most serious chemical accidents". Servicio de Información y Noticias Científicas (SINC). 13 May 2014.
  15. ^ For a full list, see Madiedo, p. 306; see also Thomas Liebert. "Overview of HNS" (PDF). National workshop on the 2010 HNS Convention, 6–8 November 2013, Port Klang, Malaysia: 20.
  16. ^ Madiedo, "fabulaciones".
  17. ^ a b Ángel Palmou (6 December 2015). "Los seis días del «Cason» que conmocionaron la comarca". La Voz de Galicia (in Spanish).
  18. ^ Madiedo, p. 309.

Further informationEdit

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 42°27′N 9°21′W / 42.45°N 9.35°W / 42.45; -9.35