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Investigating the Ocean Ranger disaster

Valentine's Day, 1982: a terrible storm rages off the coast of Newfoundland. On the Grand Banks, the Ocean Ranger, the world's mightiest drilling rig, is pounded by waves more than 20 metres high. At the height of the storm, the "indestructible" rig begins to tip over, then capsizes. All 84 men on board — 56 of them from Newfoundland — perish. It is Canada's worst tragedy at sea since the Second World War.

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In both Canada and the United States, government inquiries are attempting to learn how the "unsinkable" Ocean Ranger could capsize and why not a single crewman survived. Tomorrow in St. John's, a royal commission into the Ocean Ranger disaster begins. But shocking revelations have already been made by the American inquiry. It has learned that design flaws started the Ocean Ranger's problems but poor training turned it into a catastrophe.
• The Canadian inquiry was called the "Royal Commission on the Ocean Ranger Marine Disaster." It was chaired by T. Alexander Hickman, Chief Justice of Newfoundland.

• The American investigation was a joint inquiry of the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board. It was held in Boston. Both inquiries were closely watched by the oil drilling nations around the world.

• At the time of the Ocean Ranger disaster, the regulation of offshore oil rigs was very murky. The Ocean Ranger was registered in the United States. Despite the fact that it had a Canadian crew and was drilling in Canadian waters, the rig was the responsibility of the U.S. Coast Guard in Boston.

• Ever since the Alexander Keilland disaster, Norway has assumed jurisdiction of all rigs in its waters regardless of crew and registration.

• The U.S. inquiry determined that just before 7 p.m. on the night of the tragedy, a wave smashed a portal in the ballast control room. Seawater swamped the control panels, causing valves to open on their own and let water into the Ocean Ranger's pontoons.

• The ballast control room was located down inside one of the Ocean Ranger's legs, only 8.5 metres above sea level.

• The control room operators had only a few weeks of training and didn't know what to do. They made repairs, but the panels were still malfunctioning and flooded the pontoons again when the controls were operated. That caused the Ocean Ranger to list towards the bow and eventually capsize.

• The U.S. inquiry blamed poor training and almost useless safety gear for the tragedy. It called for better training procedures and recommended that a senior officer be in charge of the ballast control room.

• In Norway, ballast controls are run by a marine officer or engineer with seven years education and training.
Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Morning
Broadcast Date: Oct. 24, 1982
Guest(s): Leo Barry, Brian Bursey, Rick Flynn, Merv Graham, Frank Jennings, Rolph Jorgenson, Ken Oakley
Host: Barbara Smith
Reporter: Nick Fillmore
Duration: 16:15

Last updated: November 7, 2014

Page consulted on November 7, 2014

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