On February 15th, 1982, the exploratory, semi-submersible drilling rig Ocean Ranger capsized and sank off the coast of Newfoundland. All 84 people were killed in Canada’s worst maritime tragedy since the Second World War. 56 of them were from Newfoundland.
I grew up hearing about the Ocean Ranger disaster, but I didn’t learn many details about it until I went to university. I had always had the impression that the rig just disappeared one night in a storm, but the full story of the disaster, the doomed attempts by the crew to save the rig, the helplessness of the onlookers, and the failed rescue attempts is far more heartbreaking.
Unsurprisingly, the disaster is important in Newfoundland’s recent cultural, and economic, history. The oil industry has transformed Newfoundland over the last 30 years, and the Ocean Ranger was part of the original wave of exploration that created today’s era of relative prosperity.
One of the most well-known cultural responses to the disaster is Ron Hynes’ song “Atlantic Blue.” Hynes considers it one of the most difficult and important songs he’s ever written.