15 FEBRUARY 1982 – “THERE WILL BE NO FURTHER RADIO COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE OCEAN RANGER”
Ocean Ranger was a drilling semi-submersible designed and owned by Odeco of New Orleans. Constructed in 1976 by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Hiroshima, Japan, the state-of-the-art vessel was approved for unrestricted ocean operations and designed to withstand extremely harsh conditions at sea. After drilling off the coast of Alaska, New Jersey and Ireland, Ocean Ranger moved to the Grand Banks, south-east of Newfoundland, in November 1980. In February 1982 the rig was drilling in the Hibernia Oil Field, at about 315 km southeast of St John’s, Newfoundland, with two other semi-submersibles, Sedco 706 and Zapata Ugland. On the night of the 14 February, a major Atlantic storm was forecast and the rigs in the Hibernia Field prepared for the worsening weather by hanging-off the drillpipe in the well and by disconnecting the rigs from the sub-sea stacks. Due to surface difficulties and the speed at which the storm developed, the crew of Ocean Ranger were forced to shear the drillpipe after hanging-off, after which they disconnected the riser in the early evening. At about 19:00 local time, the nearby Sedco 706 experienced a large rogue wave which damaged some items on deck and caused the loss of a life raft. Soon after, radio transmissions were heard from Ocean Ranger, describing a broken portlight and water in the ballast control room and ballast valves opening and closing due to probable short circuits. 100-knot winds and 65 waves were reported. At 00:52 hours, on 15th February, a Mayday call was sent out from the Ocean Ranger, noting a severe port list to the rig and requesting immediate assistance. At 01:30 hours, the Ocean Ranger transmitted its last message: “There will be no further radio communications from the Ocean Ranger”. In the middle of the night, in the midst of severe winter weather, the crew abandoned the rig. The rig remained afloat for another 90 minutes and sank. All 84 crew members died, despite concerted attempts by the crews of several standby boats to rescue men from the water. The crew of the Nordetor supply vessel could see bodies inside a lifeboat, but they were unable to recover it. The lifeboat floated away and was never found again. The bodies of 22 of the 84 crew were found in the days after the tragedy. All of those recovered had died of drowning and hypothermia. The Canadian Royal Commission identified factors that played a role in the sinking and loss of life: the rig had several design flaws, the crew did not fully understand what to do in the case of an emergency involving the Ranger’s ballast control system, the lifesaving equipment was inadequate, and the crew lacked training in its use.
(At about 65 miles to the east of the Ocean Ranger, the Russian container ship Mekhanic Tarasov, struck by the same storm sank with the loss of 37 crew)