On 20 April 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico, an oil drilling rig explodes, producing a number of casualties but also spilling industrial quantities of oil in the sea. After the disaster was contained, the associated corporation, BP, had to pay 20 billion dollars in compensation and fines. All this should be common knowledge, however, as the topic was recently explored in a Hollywood film titled ‘Deepwater Horizon’. Very few people are aware that a similar oil leak and subsequent explosion occurred at an oil rig in Australian waters, under very similar circumstances, but presented very different outcomes as far as media coverage and compensation is concerned.
‘A Crude Injustice’ is directed by Jane Hammond and recounts the events related to the disaster and its consequences on two plains. On the one hand, it showcases what happened and what the response of the controlling firm – the Australian subsidiary of PTTEP – was, and on the other hand, it talks about the socio-economical and health impacts which the spill had on the residents of the Indonesian island of West Timor, a poverty-stricken land whose fortunes had just started to take an ascendant path due to the farming of seaweed.
The practice of seaweed farming had only recently emerged as a very profitable venture in which most of the island’s inhabitants could invest time and effort, and which in turn allowed them to provide for their families – so valuable it was that it became known as ‘green gold’ on a local basis. However, the oil spill periclitated the quality of the seaweed, poisoned the abundant underwater flora and fauna, and even people started showing signs of skin disease because of the large quantity of toxic substances spilled in the water. The film aptly chronicles all this, through various interview footage from the locals, environmental activists and politicians, combined with images and videos of the disaster and its follow-up. It mostly focuses on the inaction of PTTEP and their refusal to be held accountable for the disastrous effects on the environment, which were severely minimised by press reports.
All in all, ‘A Crude Injustice’ delivers exactly what its title promises: it chronicles the struggle of a handful of people to be noticed and to be properly compensated for the great deal of irreversible damage that was done to them. The fact that the film’s producers try to shed light on this little-known case is an admirable endeavour in itself, and is properly transposed in the shape of a short documentary. We at TMFF sympathise with this cause and hope that word will travel quickly about this case, which will hopefully have a positive resolution one day.