The Ocean Ranger disaster revisited

First aired on The Current (15/2/12)

Thirty years ago, on Feb. 15, 1982, the Ocean Ranger oil rig sank off Newfoundland, with the loss of its entire crew of 84 men. It was the worst maritime disaster in Canada since the Second World War. To mark the 30th anniversary of the tragedy, The Current aired the documentary "Still Sinking: Remembering the Ocean Ranger Disaster," produced by Marie Wadden.

ocean-ranger-200.jpgThe documentary includes archival material from news coverage of search-and-rescue operations, and features two Newfoundland writers: novelist Lisa Moore and author Susan Dodd, whose eldest brother, Jim, died in the disaster.

In the documentary, Lisa Moore reads passages from her novel February, which depicts the emotional toll of the tragedy through the story of one fictional family. Susan Dodd has recently published the non-fiction book The Ocean Ranger: Remaking the Promise of Oil, in which she examines what measures could have been used to better protect the people working on the rig. She talks about the impact of the tragedy and the lack of accountability that continues to be a problem in offshore oil operations.

The documentary begins with lines from Moore's novel: "The Ocean Ranger began to sink on Valentine's Day 1982, and was gone by dawn the next day. Every man on it died..."

For Susan Dodd, negligence and inadequate training and safety measures were to blame for the tragedy. "How did this happen? How did that rig get out there with that Newfoundland and Canadian crew, without adequate regulation? It's shocking, really, when you think about it," she said.

Dodd also cites a more recent offshore tragedy: In March 2009, 17 workers died when a Cougar helicopter en route to the Grand Banks oil fields crashed. The incident took her back to the terrible day 30 years ago when the Ocean Ranger sank. For her, it also revived questions about how to make offshore working conditions safer. "It wasn't a problem of not knowing how, it was a lack of will, and it was an absence of regulation. The Cougar crash is the same deal. They knew how to make that safer, and they decided not to."