Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ocean Ranger

Cajun's history summary reminded me that yesterday was the anniversary of the sinking of the drilling rig Ocean Ranger (Feb 15, 1982). I had some personal ties to that rig. If it was a Naval vessel, I might be considered a plank owner.

My first job out of college was working for Ocean Drilling and Exploration Company. Specifically, I was hired to join the client team in the Hiroshima, Japan shipyard where they were building two drilling rigs - the Ocean Bounty and the Ocean Ranger. The Ocean Ranger was a state of art rig designed to drill in the cold northern oceans (special steel in the hull) in the harsh weather typical of the North Sea. It also had a novel chain/wire mooring system that allowed it to anchor in deeper water. Coincidentally, both rigs got contracts to drill off of Alaska in 1977. I went along to provide engineering support to them. The Ranger drilled one hole in the Bering Sea where the winds were so fierce the anemometer pegged out at its maximum for several hours before the propeller flew off. As I was one of the few people who knew how to operate the complicated anchor windlasses, I was usually involved in any rig move and spent a fair amount of time on her.

Time goes on. I left ODECO and ended up working for Mobil Oil (the company she was working for when she sank). I was driving back from Morgan City one afternoon when the radio announced the sinking.

I can still remember the layout of the rig and sometimes I take a mental stroll across her decks and down to the engine room where I might take the elevator down to the ballast pump room - the same engine room that had a 20' x 20' hatch that provided access for downflooding straight down the elevator shaft. The ballast room where valves opened up in response to a shorted out control panel. I remember sitting in the radio room eavesdropping on other vessels radio telephone patches and their lonely men talking to their girlfriends. I remember the pranks played by the crew, especially if you were  green enough to leave your food tray unattended (Friends would add tabasco to your food if you did). I remember climbing down into her chain locker to help fix a snarl in the chain/wire swivel - a trip that an older engineer balked at when he realized the "ladder" was foot holes cut into the bulkhead. And I remember the 72 hour "days" pulling and setting anchors on a new location.

Most of the crew I had worked with in Japan and Alaska had moved to other rigs by 1982, but I knew two of the men who were lost on her. It was the first time someone I knew had been killed on the job.

1 comment:

farmland investing said...

Dear PE:

I still remember that crash as well, I think it was 1988 or 1989 if I remember correctly. First time it ever occurred to me that there were these dangers in the oil industry. I am British and had a friend who worked in the offshore industry in the North Sea awhile back, and he had some stories.