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The Heat is On

 Montrose

“So where’s the tan then?”

If I had a dollar for every time a colleague had asked me that, I’d have about five dollars by now.

Yes, another Gulf trip – the third in the past six or seven months. This one was particularly short – three days – and like all the others, eye-opening.

Normally, I try to avoid the Middle East at this time of year: to call it ‘hot’ would be like saying a vindaloo has ‘a bit of a kick’.

For the men and women of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, there’s no such luxury of choosing when they go to the Gulf.

The world will little note, nor long remember what they endure here, but it should never forget what they do (apologies to Abe Lincoln for nicking a bit of the Gettysburg address…).

Scouring hundreds of thousands of miles of ocean for smugglers, drug-runners, terrorists and other nefarious characters moving by sea is like trying to find a needle in a haystack of needles.

Now throw the climate into the equation. Mid-afternoon on Saturday it was 50˚C on the upper deck of HMS Montrose in Abu Dhabi. On the flight deck, the ship’s protection team were there in full rig, guarding the frigate.

Normally they do six-hour shifts; out here they reduce it to three. I doubt if I could manage one, despite copious supplies of bottled war.

In the engine room it’s even worse. Temperatures can top 60˚C. And this in a ship which was built for hunting Soviet submarines in the Atlantic…

Montrose has been ‘tropicalised’; her air conditioning keeps life in the ‘citadel’ – the superstructure and living areas – bearable. But you cannot operate a warship from a cocoon.

Recently, the ship scored the biggest drugs bust of any RN vessel east of Suez in recent years – ten tones of hashish, worth an estimated £20m.

You’ll see in our September issue what they went through to achieve this victory. Villains do not sail around in stripey t-shirts carrying bags marked ‘swag’. They’re cunning – secret compartments and all that. And the conditions are cramped, hot, sweaty. Montrose’s bust took several days and rarely did the temperature drop below 40˚C.

And while I’m back in my (admittedly not air-conditioned) office, they’re still out there.

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