I think one of the truly remarkable things about Ross Kemp is that in the course of filming his mucho-macho documentaries, he’s actually doing a lot of good.
One example came last night when, while discussing the much loathed pirates he was aboard HMS Northumberland to hunt out, he talked to one of the crewmen about the pirates reasons for being pirates; namely, the fact that the economic infrastructure of Somalia is practically non-existent and these men have to feed their families somehow.
To do so, many had turned to piracy as a form of international barter trade and in response to Ross’s pointing this out, the crewman said words to the effect of, “Yes, I understand they have families to feed, and so do I, but I don’t go round pointing guns at people” He paused and then, amid an array of formidable weapons conceded, “Actually, I do…”
The point? Everyone does what they have to do to survive – it just depends which side of the law you’re on and whether you’re holding a gun to stop illegal activity or to carry it out.
HMS Northumberland specifically trolls the dangerous waters around Somalia in search of pirates, and we witnessed Ross’s evident enjoyment at getting to play with the big boys’ toys such as the RIBs – reinforced inflatable boats – that speed off to distress calls and carry out searches of suspicious vessels.
He also got to lovingly admire huge guns and explosives while patrolling the Gulf of Aden, but one thing missing from this otherwise awesomely pimped out ship was an interpreter… not good when you have to approach a suspicious boat and can’t communicate one word with the captain.
“Speak English?” one of the commandos asked the crewmen of a dhow the crew wanted to search. He didn’t, so, following blank stares and nervous confusion, out came a phrase book – always handy to have when abroad – and a search for the Arabic phraseology that would ask if the crewmen were pirates or fishermen. I thought this to be something of a waste of time given that they were unlikely to say, “oh yes, we’re pirates. We’re just hanging out waiting for a ship to nick…”
However, despite the lack of a ‘terp’, the unlikelihood of anyone holding their hands up to being pirates, and the often-times refusal of permission from the UK to search a ship, the Northumberland unquestionably has a massive presence in that area and I’m sure acts as a deterrent to potential pirates, but unfortunately, we were also witness to ‘the one that got away’ last night.
A distress call came in from a vessel called the Saldanha, which it was believed was possibly under attack from pirates, so the helicopters were scrambled and it was a tense race against the clock to get to the Saldanha.
It turned out that an American forces chopper got there first and they’d concluded the ship wasn’t under attack and the suspect vessel contained only fishermen. But, later that day, the call came in that the Saldanha had in fact been taken by pirates, so the suspect vessel hadn’t contained lowly, law abiding fishermen after all…
“I’m pissed off, f***ing frustrated” the helicopter pilot ranted to Ross and he agreed; he clearly was too and of course, the fate of the crew aboard the Saldanha was unknowable. It wasn’t all a loss though because they did get to sink a pirates’ skiff, so that was pretty exciting in a weird way…
The thing that makes Ross’s shows so interesting for me is not only because I get to see the gorgeous man himself in paramilitary wear – though that’s a definite plus – but he truly does approach the subject matter from all angles. He clearly empathised with the reasons why piracy is on the increase – and especially with the individuals who see no other options for making a living – but he also presents the case for of course stopping it but being humane in the process.
But it has to be said, a lot of the show was adrenaline fuelled machismo which, on a rainy Monday night, safe in suburbia, doesn’t go amiss does it? All in all, this was a very watchable show; informative, interesting and more importantly, full of men in uniform… bliss!