The Weekly Reflektion Week 33 / 2019

This week’s Reflektion concerns the Ocean Ranger tragedy offshore Newfoundland in 1982.

Do you make the most of your learning opportunities? Are you looking for signals that may indicate you have a challenge?

The Ocean Ranger semi-submersible drilling rig was drilling the third well on the Hibernia oilfield 166 miles east of St Johns, offshore Newfoundland in February 1982. An approaching storm was forecast, and the rig was preparing to hang-off the drill string and suspend the well as per normal procedures. Due to mechanical problems, the Ocean Ranger was forced to hang the drill pipe off on the BOP pipe rams and shear the drill pipe before disconnecting the marine riser from the BOP.

About 1900 hrs. on that day, the 14th February, a rogue wave hit the rig and shattered a porthole in the ballast control room 8,5 m above sea level. Sometime after 2100 hrs., reports were heard by the nearby rigs that the valves on the ballast control system were opening and closing of their own accord. At 0052 hrs. the next day, the rig reported a severe list to port, requested the standby vessel, the Seaforth Highlander, to come in to close standby, and sent out a Mayday to all vessels within range. The weather was 100 knot winds with driving snow and sub-zero temperatures, with waves reported to be over 20m. Standby boats from two rigs in the area were immediately dispatched to give assistance. At 0130 hrs., a last message was sent from the rig “There will be no further communications from the rig. We are going to lifeboat stations.”

One lifeboat was launched successfully, and came alongside the Seaforth Highlander, and was attached by ropes. The lifeboat was designed to be self-righting however only if personnel were strapped into their seats and there was little seawater ingress. As people left their seats to attempt to clamber onboard the standby vessel, the lifeboat rolled over, breaking the ropes and tipping passengers into the sea. The Seaforth Highlander was not designed to recover personnel from the sea, and had only a cargo net, a grappling hook, and a boat hook as recovery aids. Waves were breaking over the standby vessel, with water freezing on the deck, and with no survival suits, the people in the sea died quickly. There were no survivors from a crew of 84, and only 22 bodies were recovered.

One week before the incident, the rig was reported to be listing at 5-5 ½ degrees when too much ballast was taken into the ballast tanks, and all crew were sent to their muster stations. Lack of competence in operating the ballast control system was identified as an underlying cause of the disaster, with Odeco, the rig owner, having no competence requirements for that position. This signal was either missed or ignored.

The Canadian Royal Commission investigation identified design and construction flaws that resulted in the ballast control room being vulnerable to water ingress. Lack of survival suits, poor functionality of the standby boat, the failure to carry out emergency exercises were contributed factors. The drilling toolpusher functioned at the OIM (Offshore Installation Manager) and there was no requirement for marine competence. The documentation of the rig operating systems was found to be inadequate. The industry has learned from this incident, with many changes made to lifeboat design, survival suits, competence requirements, and documentation of the rig systems. We, who work in today’s industry, owe a great deal to pioneers in frontier areas and the sacrifices that many of them made. Are we good enough at keeping their stories alive to ensure we glean as many learnings as we can over time and that their sacrifices have not been in vain?

Reflekt AS