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The tale is fiction, the story is true

A filmic piece of faction

Spring 2002. On the Greek island of Chios the captain of a tanker, just returned from a trip from the Persian Gulf to the Caribbean, dies in a road accident. Driving to church with his disabled son, he loses control of the car. The background to this mysterious accident is a long and fascinating story of a sea voyage that leads to disaster as a result of a crisis of conscience, and the catalyst is the events of 9/11.

Crude oil - or as it is known in the trade, just ‘crude’ – is the raw material for energy, heat and light. But it has a dark side too. Published in 2010 by In de Knipscheer, Karel de Vey Mestdagh’s novel ‘Ruwe olie’ (Crude oil) is the perfect raw material for a film. ‘Crude’ would be a feature film with documentary elements, involving a whistle blower racked by his conscience, a powerless island government and a passionate love affair. In short, a highly filmic piece of faction. Inspired by the truth of the imagination, the author has shaped the reality on which his tale is based. As is the case with the book, the impact of the film will be intensified by the force of historical facts.

In September 2001 a Dutch consultant arrives in Curaçao for a four-week stay during which he is to advise the island authorities. He knows the island well and, as always, takes a room in a small, agreeable hotel on the coast. And then 9/11 happens. A tanker carrying smuggled oil from Iraq arrives off the coast. The four weeks turn into four long, exhausting months. An apparently impossible love affair takes him by surprise and jeopardises his already shaky marriage. And all the while one of the world’s largest tankers wallows aimlessly in territorial waters and mutiny threatens.

It seems that the ship (a Very Large Crude Carrier) has smuggled oil on board. The Americans demand that Curaçao seize the tanker and its cargo. The island authorities face an impossible dilemma – they do not have the means to comply with the Americans’ request. The island is trapped in a web of fraud and power politics.

The master of the tanker plays a crucial role in the whole affair. Wanting to safeguard his son’s financial future, he had agreed to ‘top up’ his cargo with illegal oil, but his conscience torments him. On his last voyage before retirement he decides to inform the US authorities and the UN. Although it is the right thing to do, by taking this step he places himself, his crew and his ship in a terrible predicament.

Major interests prove to be at stake. The UN has announced sanctions against Iraq, but unscrupulous tycoons are trying to control global supplies. And in the meantime, the world seems to be heading for war. Terror strikes in New York. Is the tanker’s cargo somehow connected? The Americans leave everyone guessing. They have every reason to treat the rest of the world with hostility and suspicion, but at the same time domestic political scores are being settled (Bush versus Clinton). And while this is going on, a small Caribbean island is driven into a corner and forced to pay the price.

The story is about people, about a small tragedy taking place on the world stage. About human dramas unfolding in the wings of these historical events. About shady characters and mysterious events. About black gold and black-market money, but above all about love and passion, doubt and scruples, about love for a fragile child who talks to the angels. And last but not least, about two protagonists, unaware that they are companions in adversity, in the hopelessness that traps them both. In the concluding chapters fate brings the two main characters together.

In fact Crude tells two stories: the trials and tribulations of the Dutchman, De Vidal, who becomes entangled despite himself in events on Curaçao, and the odyssey of the Greek captain Ferakis, from the Persian Gulf to the Caribbean. In the book the two islands, Curaçao in the tropics and Chios, the captain’s home in the Greek archipelago, form the bookends of a single story. Islands where life is lived on the edge of the endless horizon, yet where the sea cuts off any view of the world. And the mammoth tanker is in many ways like an island.

Crude reveals the surprising coherence behind life’s apparently random course. Things turn out very differently than the characters expect. Nevertheless, they are forced to make decisions, despite the doubts they often wrestle with, and if they prove to be the wrong decisions … they will have to clear the decks. And that is the central theme of the film: the soul-searching of the principal characters creates a classic drama in which catastrophe leads to catharsis.


The Cape