Big semisubmersible rig is presumed to have sunk during
storm on Grand Banks off Newfoundland. No survivors found among
84 persons aboard the unit. Search efforts continue as Canadian
and Newfoundland government organize probes.
Scanned (without permission) from Oil & Gas Journal, February
Ocean Ranger, billed as the world's largest
semisubmersible drilling rig, vanished last week during a
raging storm in the North Altantic off eastern Canada.
The Odeco Drilling of Canada Ltd. rig was drilling an
appraisal well in Hibernia oil field, 200 miles east-southeast
of St. John's, Newfoundland, for a group led by Mobil Oil Canada
Ocean Drilling and Exploration Company (Odeco), New Orleans,
parent of Odeco Canada, said the rig apparently sank in about
260 feet of water at the drillsite on the Grand Banks.
Click on map to enlarge
All anchor buoys were in place when search teams later
reached the site of Mobil et al J-34 Hibernia at 46° 43'
34.62" North Latitude, 48° 50' 11.15" West Longitude.
Two other rigs working in the area suspended operations
during the storm but reported no unusual problems. However, high
seas sank a Soviet freighter 75 miles east of Hibernia field two
days after the Ocean Ranger was last heard from early February
15 St. John's time.
The rigs still at work in the area were to be moved to
Newfoundland for inspection.
Ocean Ranger, rated to 25,000 feet in 3,000 feet of water,
had been under contract to Mobil Canada since October 1980. Two
other rigs based on the Ranger design are under
Odeco estimated the value of the rig at about $60 million. It
is fully insured by Oil Insurance Ltd., Bermuda.
Inquiries into the accident are to be conducted by the
Canadian and Newfoundland governments. A member of the
U.S. House of Representatives also called for an investigation
in light of increased offshore drilling as a result of a stepped
up schedule for leasing federal acreage on the Outer Continental
At Oil & Gas Journal press time last week, no
survivors had been found among 84 persons aboard the
Nineteen bodies and two lifeboats had been recovered. Two of
the bodies had been brought ashore.
The list of personnel aboard Ocean Ranger included Mobil
Canada's Robert Fenez, St. John's, drilling engineer; Jack
Jacobsen, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, senior drilling foreman; and
Robert Madden, Calgary, Alberta, drilling foreman; and Odeco's
Gerald R. Vaughn, Collins, Mississippi, toolpusher; and Michael
E. Watkins, New Orleans, safety supervisor and industrial
If no survivors are found, the death toll will fall 39 shy of
the record offshore casualty list reported in the capsizing of
the Alexander L. Kielland accommodation rig nearly 2 years ago
in the North Sea.
Of the personnel aboard Ocean Ranger, 46 were Odeco
employees, including 15 Americans. Sixty-eight of the total were
Canadian, and one was English.
There were no confirmed reports on how the Ocean Ranger
accident occurred. The rig lost radio contact during the
storm whose winds of more than 80 knots whipped up 50 foot
The fierce storm forced the crew to begin abandoning the
A Mobil Canada spokesman said, "We were talking to the
drilling foreman. He told us the rig was listing, and they were
putting people in the lifeboats. That's the last contact we
Final radio contact with the rig was logged about 1:30 a.m.,
St. John's time, February 15.
Mobil Canada said it only could confirm that the rig was
afloat at that time. "That's all we know."
The rig was said to be listing as much as 15° about the
time the abandon order was given. But Mobil Canada said it could
not confirm that figure, which was widely reported in the
Hours after last contact with the rig, winds were clocked at
about 60 knots and waves were estimated at 30 feet making search
and rescue efforts dangerous by sea and air.
Search and rescue operations were still under way last week,
but efforts were hampered by blowing snow, high winds, and poor
visibility. Aircraft spotted debris and several bodies floating
in the area as the storm's intensity slackened a little from its
Light snow continued in the St. John's area at
midweek. Offshore, sea heights were estimated at as much as 30
feet, lashed by winds of about 36-37 knots.
Al Spindler, a spokesman for Odeco, said the weather in the
area had been rough the entire weekend leading up to the
disaster. And Mobil Canada reported the weather had been far
from ideal for weeks, but the storm had been predicted well in
The Ocean Ranger, however, was designed for work in severe
environments. It was built to withstand winds of 115 knots,
waves of 110 feet, and a 3 knot current simultaneously.
Prior to the storm, Ocean Ranger had drilled Hibernia
J-34 to 12,179 feet. Casing had been cemented, and the riser
was in place, Mobil Canada said.
"We know the well has a cement plug in it," the Mobil Canada
"We know the drillpipe was up and the hole was plugged."
But it was not known whether the riser had been disconnected
or drillpipe had been pulled up or sheared off prior to the rig
Odeco reported drilling operations were suspended and the
well secured prior to last radio contact.
Prior to its assignment at Hibernia J-34, Ocean Ranger
drilled part of another Hibernia well, K-18, for Mobil Canada.
The Zapata Ugland completed the well, on which operations
have been suspended.
Ocean Ranger also drilled Hibernia G-55A for Mobil Canada. It
was a dry hole.
Ocean Ranger was moved from its previous location at Sheridan
J-87, a dry hole, in November. Site is about 150 miles north of
Hibernia J-34 location.
Hibernia J-34, spudded last November 29, was projected to
14,000 feet. It is a little less than 3 miles southwest of the
P-15 Hibernia discovery well.
Members of the Hibernia group are Mobil Canada 28.12%, Gulf
Canada Resources Inc. and Petro-Canada Exploration Inc. 25%
each, Chevron Standard Ltd. 16.41 %, and Columbia Gas
Development of Canada Ltd. 5.47%.
Early in the search and rescue effort, heavy seas
prevented immediate recovery of the bodies seen floating
amid the debris, Mobil Canada said.
Vessels pressed the search during nighttime and daylight
hours, while air operations were conducted during daylight
Two fixed wing Canadian armed forces search and rescue
Buffalo aircraft from Prince Edward Island scoured the area, as
well as two helicopters from Gander, Newfoundland.
Mobil Canada had three chartered Sikorsky S-61 helicopters on
standby at St. John's. And four of six chartered workboats in
the area were conducting search operations, while the two others
were on standby.
A Canadian Fisheries research vessel, Gadus Atlantica, was in
the area as well as the Java Seal seismic vessel. Both had
responded to the rig's distress signal.
Odeco said the rig was equipped with four lifeboats but no
escape capsules. Two of the boats had a capacity of 58 men each,
and the other two had a capacity of 50 men each. The rig also
had six inflatable life rafts.
One boat was sighted stern down, one upright, and one was
reportedly seen capsized. The fourth had not been found.
One life raft was spotted partially inflated, floating in the
Ocean Ranger reported ballasting problems 7-10 days
before its disappearance, listing about 5° at one
Mobil Canada confirmed that the earlier problem was human
error during ballasting, which was corrected within about 10
minutes with all systems functioning properly again within 20
minutes. An order to stand by lifeboats to abandon the rig was
issued, then rescinded because the problem was corrected.
Steve Romansky, Mobil Canada's East Coast operations manager
in St. John's, said the earlier incident was unrelated to what
occurred during the storm.
An engineer with Canada's Department of Energy, Mines, and
Resources inspected the Ocean Ranger the week before the
disaster. Mobil Canada said the contents of his report and two
other unrelated inspection reports were favorable, indicating
that Ocean Ranger was seaworthy.
The U.S. Coast Guard in Boston said the rig was inspected in
December 1979 for its certificate of seaworthiness while it was
tied up in a Rhode Island harbor. Such inspections are generally
conducted every two years. But the USCG's marine safety division
could not complete the inspection because there was no available
drydock big enough to accommodate the rig to allow inspectors to
check areas below water line.
A Coast Guard spokesman in Washington said a special survey
was conducted in April 1980 while the rig was located in
U.S. East Coast waters to complete the December 1979
The spokesman said, "They sent a diver down to go over the
whole rig below the water line. He had a remote video hookup
whereby the inspector on board the rig could see everything up
close on the television screen."
The spokesman said the inspection revealed no structural
problems or other problems that might affect the rig's
seaworthiness. "If they had found anything, they would not have
certified it. They found it to be seaworthy."
The Zapata Off-Shore Company Ugland and
the Sedco 706 semi-submersibles, both drilling near Ocean
Ranger, weathered the storm. The rigs were all in sight of one
A spokesman said Sedco 706, drilling Mobil et al Nautilus
C-92, was tripping pipe at the time of the first warnings of the
He said first reports of the approaching storm were heard on
the afternoon of February 14 St. John's time. That was about 6
hours before the onslaught, giving rig hands enough time to
Drilling was discontinued, and the drillpipe was hung off in
The Ugland, drilling Mobil et al West Flying Foam L-23,
reported no storm related problems. The Ugland recorded waves of
about 60-65 feet and winds of about 90-100 knots during the
worst of the storm.
The Ugland crew pulled drillpipe and hung it off in the
riser, closed the blind rams, and disconnected the lower marine
Late last week, both rigs were waiting for the weather to
moderate before moving to shore for safety inspections, probably
at Marystown, Newfoundland.
Drilling on the Hibernia structure is far from easy
because of seasons of rough weather.
Mobil Canada said Ocean Ranger had logged some downtime
because of weather "but nothing we weren't prepared for."
According to Odeco accounts, quoting a Mobil Canada
spokesman, "The area is plagued with sea and weather states that
are considerably worse than those in the North Sea. Drilling is
troublesome, with multiple geopressured formations that cannot
be detected by seismic methods used with general success in
other parts of the world."
"Overall, Hibernia operations are among the most challenging
in the offshore industry."
Odeco's Ben Ocean Lancer drillship can attest to the area's
severity. It worked off Labrador, beginning its fourth
consecutive drilling season last June in Canadian waters.
The rig had to contend with icebergs in "Iceberg Alley." Most
of the icebergs passed well away from the rig. But one came
within a half mile of the drillsite and had to be towed
On one occasion, the vessel heaved 25 ft and more in very
rough seas and heavy swells.
When it headed back into St. John's, however, it encountered
winds of 70 knots and seas of 40-50 feet. Ben Ocean Lancer
Captain Jim Milne said, "There was no sleep for anyone that
night due to the violent movement of the vessel."
Several U.S. and Canadian agencies will investigate the
Ocean Ranger disaster.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast
Guard's marine safety division will represent the U.S. portion
of the inquiry.
Canada's energy department and Department of Transport is
conducting a joint inquiry, as well as a Newfoundland Royal
Commission. Heading the Canadian federal probe is Supreme Court
Justice T.A. Hickman. The provincial commission is headed by
Gordon Winter, former lieutenant governor of the province.
Under terms of the Public Inquiries Act and the Canada
Shipping Act, such an inquiry is called if there is loss of
Representatives of the energy department were on the scene
last week, and officers of the federal departments involved had
kicked off a preliminary investigation.
Transport Minister Jean-Luc Pepin and Energy Minister Marc
Lalonde said the federal government will investigate all aspects
of the loss of Ocean Ranger.
The investigation will be based in St. John's.
In the U.S., the House merchant marine committee plans an
investigation into the loss of Ocean Ranger.
Representative John Breaux (D-Louisiana), who asked for
hearings, said, "This kind of tragedy is intolerable in
light of the fact that advanced design, engineering, and
construction techniques were used to build this rig. This,
coupled with progressive weather prediction technology,
should have prevented this accident."
"Because an accelerated 5 year offshore leasing plan has been
announced by the administration, I want to be assured that
U.S. industry is capable of meeting this increased challenge
safely and efficiently."
Probes by Canada's federal government and Newfoundland
reflect - in part, at least - their dispute over which
government holds jurisdiction over offshore resources.
The dispute could wind up in the Canadian Supreme Court,
causing long delays in development of discoveries by Mobil
Canada and other companies. Mobil Canada is preparing a
development proposal for Hibernia field.
Newfoundland has asked its supreme court to determine the
ownership of offshore resources, including Hibernia field where
reserves are estimated at 1.5 billion barrels of oil.
The move is the latest escalation in the jurisdiction and
ownership battle between the province and Ottawa.
Newfoundland and the federal government have been
negotiating for several months, and Prime Minister Pierre
Trudeau recently threatened to refer the matter to the
Supreme Court of Canada for a decision unless an agreement
was reached by February 28.
Newfoundland Premier Brian Peckford accused the federal
government of acting "in bad faith" and said the issue should be
settled in Newfoundland first, rather than in a federal
Earlier, Peckford issued an ultimatum demanding that the
federal government confirm in writing that it was willing to put
aside its claim of undersea mineral ownership until it concluded
Lalonde said Newfoundland's decision to go to court was
"premature and intemperate." But he said Ottawa is still willing
to discuss offshore issues other than ownership. These would
include joint management of offshore development and revenue
History's worst offshore rig accident in terms of loss of
life was the capsizing of the Semi-submersible Alexander
L. Kielland in the Norwegian North Sea on March 27,
Of 212 persons on board, 123 died. One man who had donned a
survival suit and life jacket survived 2 hours 35 minutes in the
sea, longest reported survival time.
The incident occurred at evening as the Kielland lay at
anchor in Ekofisk field near the Edda 2/7-C production
platform. Due to poor visibility and high wind and waves, the
platform had been shifted away from Edda and the gangway removed
At about 6:30 p.m., one of the Kielland's five legs broke
off. The platform listed quickly to 30-35° and capsized 20
minutes later. Only the bottoms of the four remaining legs
remained visible at the surface.
Owned by Stavanger Drilling Company, the platform was under
charter to Phillips Petroleum Company Norway as accommodations
for staff of contractors working in the Ekofisk area.
A Norwegian inquiry traced the cause of the disaster to
attachment of a hydrophone to one of the leg braces. A 10 inch
hole was cut into the brace, then sealed. Cracks appeared and
eventually led to fracture of the brace and separation of the
leg (OGJ, April 13, 1981, p. 48).
The Kielland was towed to Gandsfjord north of Stavanger,
where several attempts to right it failed. A politically
unpopular decision to sink the rig at sea is being considered,
along with a plan by Kielland survivors and others to right the