TNB Night Owl – Pudding Ship

We’ve covered food disasters before, from the molasses floods of Boston and Honolulu to the London beer flood. Tonight, it’s time to look at a disaster which was averted, but barely – the Swiss freighter Cassarate and its unpleasant experiment in practical physics.

In 1972, the ship was sailing from Thailand to the Netherlands, loaded with cargo. During the trip, a fire broke out among the rubber and timber which was being carried in the upper storage areas. Because the ship’s storage was compartmentalized and the ship was constructed of metal, the decision was made to continue on the journey rather than pull into an unscheduled port. Sailors worked to keep the fire contained as best they could, spraying the surfaces down with water and regularly knocking back the flames down to embers. After the surfaces dried, the embers would rekindle the flames and the process would start again.

The fire continued for weeks, until it finally got the better of the crew. The flames grew beyond their containment, and the ship made an emergency stop in Cardiff, Wales. Firefighters at the dock sprang into action, getting high pressure hoses onto the ship and finally putting out the fire. The ship was saved.

Except… all of the fire had generated a lot of heat throughout the ship. In the lower portion of the hold was 1500 tons of finely ground starch taken from the cassava, a root vegetable. The substance was used as a thickening agent in stews and soups and formed into pearls for direct consumption under the common name of tapioca.

The water runoff from the hoses mixed with the tapioca flour to create a saturated slurry, and the steel floor of the upper hold was still glowing from the inferno conditions… a floor which formed the ceiling for the lower hold. The water and heat combined with the tons of tapioca to create an immense mass of pudding.

Beyond the issues of fire damage and the loss of three large cargos (timber, rubber, tapioca) the ship now had another problem: pudding expands. The hold was filling rapidly, and hydraulic pressure physics were coming into play. Without adequate areas to vent the pudding, pressures were increasing across the hold and the hull was buckling.

There is no official record of what followed. It is known that the ship survived, despite being in serious danger of becoming the first ship to be blown out of the water by pudding. It is known that the sailors were not officially allowed to rig hoses or any other devices to pump the pudding directly overboard into the ocean. It is also known that no shore agency received an impromptu donation of hundreds of thousands of servings of unsweetened tapioca pudding.

But I suspect many local sea creatures had more dessert in one night than they’d have for the remainder of their lives.

Question of the night: Pudding or gelatin? And in any particular recipe, or by itself?

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.