It was 2013 when I first set foot on one of the infamous floating armories on the Indian Ocean, and my experience on it was something to remember. It was around that time that maritime security companies started to rely more on floating armories to sidestep local laws and costs that land-based armories and hotels present. They started using these ships/armories to store weapons and as a place for guards to wait for the next transit.

In the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and in Fujairah, the waters are filled with various kinds of ships—from former Coast Guard vessels to tow boats—all packed with semi-auto rifles, level-4 vests, night-vision optics, and a bunch of maritime security guards.

When piracy was at its most prominent, the fears of such a vessel being captured by pirates, thus giving them access to modern weaponry and materials, were not groundless. Despite the presence of many guards on board, they weren’t armed; weapons are stored in containers, and you rely on the presence of one armed person on the bridge to keep you safe and to give early warning.

Sometimes they fail to do so, as was the case one night in Fujairah. A former Brit commando and I watched a small speedboat pass mere meters from our bow. I am sure the Indian guard and captain still remember the Brit reading them the riot act for their sloppiness in letting the boat get so close.

Today, with the all-out civil war in Yemen, the floating armories are threatened once again, as they present a lucrative target for the AQAP-affiliated Ansar al-Sharia that is in control of the Al Mukalla port—the smuggling hub between Yemen and Somalia. The capture of such a ship would mean access to weapons, armor, and hostages. The danger is real, as there are many levels of competence among the security teams aboard those ships, ranging from no experience at all and complete lack of training to U.S. and British veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Living aboard a floating armory

Life aboard the lower class of those ships is difficult. These are old ships that were simply repurposed. Any medical emergency can put your life in danger, given the distance to the shore and the fact that, unfortunately, there are companies that are reluctant to pay the fee to get you ashore.

I kid you not: A personal acquaintance of mine almost died. His error? Working for one of the worst Greek security companies. There are also other creatures living with you, from cockroaches to rats. One unlucky Brit was bitten in the balls and had to be airlifted out.

The food gives another meaning to the word exotic. In one case, the cook was dropping spices into the food by the bucket. With each bite, I felt like a fire-breathing dragon was waking up in my esophagus. I lost 10 kilos in 20 days there, simply because I couldn’t eat. Every time, my eyes would tear up—either from the heat of the food or from laughter as I watched the other guys trying to eat that firebomb and choking on it. The cook’s desserts were excellent, though!