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The storm that started 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.

Feb. 14, 1982: a fierce storm rages off the coast of Newfoundland. Some 315 kilometres east of St. John's, the Ocean Ranger, a giant self-propelled oil rig, temporarily halts its search for oil. High as a 35-storey building, the Ocean Ranger is the largest and most advanced oil rig of its kind, built to withstand the world's stormiest seas. But that's little comfort to the 84 men in the eye of the storm, or their families.
• The storm began two days earlier as a weak disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico. By the 13th it was centred south of Nova Scotia, gathering strength as it moved towards Newfoundland. By the 14th it neared St. John's.
• For most of the 14th the Ocean Ranger was battered by hurricane-force winds howling at over 100 kilometres per hour, and waves as high 27 metres -- the size of a five-storey building.

• The storm was classified a "Sea State 8," which means waves averaging 15 metres high with 70-knot winds. Meteorologists called it a "10-12 year storm" -- a storm that severe happens approximately every 10 to 12 years. The waves were described as "high and short," meaning they were tall with a short distance between them. This sort of wave has very steep slopes, and often breaks, slapping anything in its path with a massive wall of water.

• The Grand Banks have been extensively explored for oil since 1966. The first major find was the Hibernia oil field, discovered in 1979. This was the area the Ocean Ranger was exploring in 1982. Work to develop Hibernia began in 1990.

• Newfoundland's Grand Banks are a series of raised underwater plateaus located off the southeast coast of the island. The relatively shallow water and warm Gulf Stream current allow marine plants and animals to flourish, making the Grand Banks one of the world's most renowned fishing areas. It is also rich in petroleum reserves. The area is particularly hazardous since the steepest waves off the coast of North America are generated there.

• Mitsubishi Heavy Industries built the Ocean Ranger in 1974 in Hiroshima, Japan. It was owned by the Ocean Drilling and Exploration Company, or Odeco, the world's second-largest drilling operator, and leased by Mobil Oil at a cost of $93,000 a day.

• The Ocean Ranger was self-propelled, using its powerful engines to move about offshore oil fields. It was a "semi-submersible" rig, floating on two 122-metre long pontoons that rested 24 metres below the surface of the water.
• The Ocean Ranger weighed 25,000 tons and had a deck bigger than two football fields. One crewmember described being aboard the Ocean Ranger as "like being in a big hotel in the middle of the ocean."

• After spending three unsuccessful years searching for oil off the coast of Alaska beginning in 1976, the Ocean Ranger began a 22,500 kilometre journey to the Atlantic, at a cost of $22,000 a day. After seeking oil off the coast of Ireland, it moved to the Grand Banks in November 1980.
• The Ocean Ranger had a sister rig, the Finnish-built Dyvi Delta. It was later renamed the West Delta.
Medium: Television
Program: The Passionate Eye
Broadcast Date: Feb. 25, 2002
Guest(s): Chris Kearny, Owen Myers, Cle Newhook, Gordon Noseworthy
Producer: Bob Wakeham
Duration: 2:20

Last updated: February 19, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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