John Colson: Hit and Run | AspenTimes.com

John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

Farce and fact collided in an hysterical, and historical, way on my computer screen last week.

A friend sent me a video clip (www.wimp.com/bppr/) of an interview of a man identified as a member of Australia’s parliament, a Senator Collins, who was discussing an oil-tanker mishap in the Indian Ocean west of Australia.

“The Front Fell Off,” was the title of the video, as well as one of the most oft-spoken phrases uttered by the senator as he described the incident and strove mightily to assure the viewing public that not all tankers were as unsafe as the one involved.

In what can only be likened to a cross between the best of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the famous “who’s on first” bit by Abbot and Cosetllo, Mr. Collins proceeded to perform a set of verbal gymnastics of stunning scope and intricacy in a struggle to not give a single direct answer to the interviewer’s questions.

A sample (just imagine the accents, dense and deadpan):

• Interviewer: “What happened in this case?”

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• Senator: “Well, the front fell off, in this case, by all means, but it’s very unusual.”

• Interviewer: “But, senator, why did the front fall off?”

• Senator: “Well, a wave hit it.”

• Interviewer: “A wave hit it? Is that unusual?”

• Senator: “What, at sea? Chance in a million.”

My first reaction was to mentally conjure up thoughts of the aforementioned comedic titans and ask myself, “Is this for real?”

My second reaction was to say to myself, “No, it can’t be, no politician is that hilariously idiotic, not even in Australia!”

My next act was to do a little rummaging around the Internet to get to the bottom of this conundrum, and guess what I found?

First off, of course it’s not real. It was a pair of Aussie comics pretending to be interviewer and interviewee, and pulling it off quite well, thank you very much.

The incident, however, was real. It happened in July 1991, off the coast of Western Australia. A photo of the ship, a Greek tanker named Kirki, shows the vessel foundering in the water with its bow simply gone. As if it were sliced off, like a hot paring knife cutting through a block of cheese. Dumping 20 tons of crude oil into the sea.

Now, being an inquisitive American, not to mention a supremely cynical citizen of the world, I delved further. It turned out that the ship had sprung a leak in a forward ballast tank, in heavy seas, and the resulting flooding of that tank apparently caused the front of the ship to drop off into the sea. No more detailed explanations were available.

But things got even more interesting as I dug deeper.

Guess whose oil it was that got dumped into the sea that time?

I can almost hear you casting about helplessly, so I’ll give you a clue: The same company is now trying to extricate itself from an even worse disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

That’s right, you guessed it: BP!

Predictably enough, according to a report by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, back in 1991 BP was soon putting as rosy a coloration as possible on the incident, declaring that within three days more than half of the spilled oil had “evaporated,” “dissipated” or “dissolved,” there was no chance of a major spill of the rest of its 80,000-ton cargo, and the danger was past.

I wonder if they asked the sea creatures how things were going beneath the surface.

Oh, and the video clip? That was made in 1991, as well, and is only now making the rounds again as people focus their lazy-dazed minds on the ongoing Gulf disaster and desperately look for ways to laugh about the whole thing.

Already our best comic geniuses are coming up with bits that promise to render the Deepwater Horizon incident into a global punch line of some sort. But that is complicated by the fact that 11 people died when the drilling platform exploded, the Gulf coast is facing years of cleanup, the regional economy is in even worse shambles than it was before, and the political fallout involving government-industry collusion gets deeper by the day.

But, hey, laughter is a balm to the soul. If you don’t laugh, then you’ll either cry or completely freak out, and what’s the good of that?

jcolson@aspentimes.com