As exciting as ‘anti-piracy operations’ may sound, or as adventurous as the film “Captain Phillips” may make it seem, the reality of the maritime-security industry is a bit more monotonous. Since the real Maersk Alabama incident, virtually every ship approaching the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor carries armed guards, and the Somali ‘Jack Sparrows’ have become less bold.

Although being a maritime security officer is still no holiday cruise, most of the time onboard is rather uneventful. The precise reasons that led the Somalis to piracy are still unclear. Somalia is a country that has been continuously ravaged by civil war since the 1980s and has an immensely poor population where practically no one has running water or electricity. The alleged toxic-waste dumping in its waters may have been the last straw. Or it may have been just a drop in the ocean.

Whatever prompted the Somalis to take to the seas, it’s clear what keeps them going: profit. At first they would raid ships’ coffers—the typical reserves and crew salaries are no minor amounts. Then they discovered they could make much more by taking ships and crews as hostage.

In response to all this, shipping companies have expanded their security standards, hiring armed teams for the vessels that cross the high-risk area of the Indian Ocean, which extends from the 18th parallel on the Red Sea to the shores of Tanzania, and from the Hormuz Straits to the east of the Maldives island complex. The maritime security used for these passages usually provide teams of three to four guards per vessel. They normally get to travel between ports such as Suez in Egypt, Galle of Sri Lanka, Durban in South Africa, and more in that region.

As for me, after five years spent in the Greek Army SOF, I was out and I was looking for a line of work where what I had learned could be of use. The fact that many maritime security companies are of Greek ownership and are based in Greece or Cyprus definitely helped to narrow my choices down.

The life of the maritime security guard

As part of one of these security teams, you and your team arrive at the port city a couple of days before the ship arrives, and you wait. Then, when it approaches, you board a service boat and head for the open waters to the RV point. Time is money in the shipping world, and no vessel will ever stop for you. The best it can do is slow down a little and drop the ladders for you to climb. That is a fun experience when the waters are calm, but it can be downright terrifying in bad weather. In fact, this procedure alone has claimed the life of one officer and the health of many more in the six years of the maritime industry in the Indian Ocean.

After successfully boarding the ship, you are rewarded with 7-12 days of dullness. Your main task during the transit is to take on guard shifts, where you alternate using your eyes to watch the ocean and watching the radar. Despite the monotony, there is a lot to take in from the voyage. You can see a night sky as you’ve never seen it before: In the middle of nowhere, away from the light pollution of the large cities, the stars present themselves in all their glory, offering an astonishing sight. The constellations of the southern hemisphere glimmer as clearly as if on an astronomy textbook page.

There are vast arrays of aquatic life that will accompany the ship, too, from large pods of dolphins to the occasional sea turtle. You also get to see a whole lot of sharks, especially in the Red Sea, where you might even encounter the gigantic whale shark.