HMS Kent Builds Up Relations with Mariners while Patrolling off Horn of Africa
Sailors and Royal Marines from HMS Kent are finding that an ice-cool bottle of water can be just as important in the fight against piracy as the frigate’s hi-tech weaponry and sensors.
With temperatures now reaching 40˚C off the Horn of Africa, where the Portsmouth-based warship is on counter-piracy and counter-terrorism patrol, building up good relations with mariners is key to rooting out any criminals, starting with a bottle of water in the heat.
On a typical day, Kent carries out around a dozen ‘approach and assist visits’ to dhows and medium-sized ships and boats, with her Royal Marines-Royal Navy boarding team chatting with crews to assure them the warship is here to help.
“Operating 4,000 miles from home, in a region with 20 different languages or dialects and a vastly different culture presents challenges that require of HMS Kent the ability to interact diplomatically and with sensitivity to local personnel,” says Lt Cdr Mickey Rooney, Kent’s weapon engineer officer.
“In gaining trust and empathising with the tough existence that many of these mariners endure, there is one simple currency that secures trust, breaches all barriers and which, in terms of value, makes fossil fuels and rare metals look like small change –water.”
Although the Gulf region is synonymous with oil and gas production – it is Kent’s task along with other ships in the 27-nation Combined Maritime Forces to ensure the flow of oil and other goods by sea – and water is a natural source in short supply on some of the smaller dhows in mid summer.
“As the ship’s boarding teams constantly find that for all of the water they ride on, being a mariner in the Gulf is thirsty work,” says Lt Cdr Rooney.
“The power of water can be seen first hand as one of HMS Kent’s high speed boats makes an approach to a dhow and offers a litre of fresh cold water, held high like a universal calling card of humanity. The reception is warm, friendly and without barriers.”
Cdr Ben Ripley, HMS Kent’s Commanding Officer, added: “A simple gesture like the gift of a bottle of water – which may seem insignificant for many – goes a long way to building relationships and trust with the seafarers that HMS Kent is here to protect.
“For the Royal Navy the simple gesture of gifting drinking water to break down all barriers is turning out to be one of the most powerful forms of currency in securing safe passage for our way of life.”
Kent is currently attached to Combined Task Force 150, comprising warships from Australia, France and Canada, and working with vessels from Djibouti, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
The force provides assurance for the safe passage of merchant vessels of any nationality through the infamous Bab Al Mendab Strait at the foot of the Red Sea and beyond.
It covers some 190,000 square miles of sea – that’s over twice the size of Great Britain – with up to 40 large scale ships passing every hour or, spread over a year, about 40 per cent of all the goods and essential materials Europe needs.
Press Release, July 16, 2013; Image: Royal Navy