Photo by John Weston courtesy Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Website

Canada Marks 40 Years Since the Ocean Ranger Sinking

Mike Schuler
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February 15, 2022

It’s been 40 years since the semi-submersible drilling rig Ocean Ranger sank off the coast of Newfoundland during an intense North Atlantic storm with the loss of all 84 crew members, resulting in one of the offshore industry’s worst disasters.

The mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU) sank approximately 166 miles east of St. John’s, Newfoundland after it was struck by a large wave early in the morning on February 15, 1982. A distress message was sent from the rig a little after 1 a.m.: “WE ARE THE ODECO OCEAN RANGER… AND WE ARE EXPERIENCING A SEVERE LIST OF ABOUT 10-15 DEGREES AND ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF A SEVERE STORM… WE WILL STAND BY AS LONG AS POSSIBLE.”

Only 22 bodies were ever recovered.

A U.S. Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation determined the cause of the casualty to be the failure of ballast control room portlight(s) in seas up to 50 feet. The failure allowed seawater to enter the ballast control room, likely causing an electrical malfunction that set off a chain of events resulting in the capsizing and sinking of the rig. Investigators also found the rig had a lack of survival suits, inadequate lifeboat launching systems, and ineffective life rafts. Nearby vessels were also not equipped to rescue casualties from the water, especially in the prevailing weather conditions.

Most of the crew is believed to have died from drowning or hypothermia.

A separate Canadian royal commission inquiry found that the Ocean Ranger had several design flaws and its crew lacked proper safety training and equipment, which could have prevented the severe loss of life.

Months after the incident, a salvage team refloated and towed the rig to deeper water, where it was sunk.

The incident also contributed to major regulatory changes within Canada’s offshore industry and beyond, including the formation of the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board (known today as the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board).

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