Indian maritime security personnel

Maritime security firms are increasingly turning to India and other Asian countries to hire lower-paid security guards. For some armed forces veterans, it's a lucrative way to return to civilian life.

That confrontation with Somali pirates still sends shivers down Abdul Razack's spine. It was a close shave for the former Indian Navy sailor.

Razack and his team of former Indian veterans were manning an oil tanker in the Red Sea off the coast of Somalia in 2013, when they came under attack from pirates.

The buccaneers relentlessly pursued the tanker, unfazed by several rounds of warning gunshots. As the chase went on, Razack's team was fast running out of ammunition. But as luck would have it, the pirates gave up their pursuit, knowing little that the guards and crew on-board the tanker were just short of becoming sitting ducks.

"We feared for our lives," Razack said. "Had the pirates not left, we would have been dead."

Razack today runs a hiring firm that supplies Indian veterans to global maritime security firms, which are turning to Asia for lower-paid guards to drive down costs in a crowded industry that is struggling amid a decline in piracy off the coast of Somalia.

The demand for cheap labour has provided Indian armed forces veterans with a lucrative path back to civilian life. Indian guards with over 15 years of experience in the forces can earn as much as five times their last drawn salaries in the military — remunerations attractive enough for them to embark on a risky second innings.

"There was always a threat to life. We did not know we would come back to India or not. My family was worried for me," Razack told DW. "But the salary was enough to convince my family. They understood that the high risk came with the promise of a higher salary."

Razack says his recruitment firm has placed 1,500 Indian veterans in the maritime security industry over the past few years.

Lean Period

Private maritime security firms mushroomed in the late 2000s, when piracy off the Horn of Africa was at its peak. They supplied security teams to secure ships traversing the dangerous waters. The guards were drawn predominantly from elite military units in the UK, the US and Greece.

As the industry became more crowded, the smaller players started hiring lower-paid guards from India, Sri Lanka and other Asian countries to remain competitive. In most cases, these guards lacked the experience and expertise of their Western peers.

"These smaller companies that were driving the 'price wars' introduced to the industry the whole Asian game," said Dimitris Maniatis, chief commercial officer of Diaplous, one of the largest private maritime security firms. "Each and every company tried to find an agent who could supply them guards at the lowest possible rate."

Soon the bigger firms, including Diaplous, also joined the bandwagon to avoid being priced out of an industry that within 4 years of its inception had nearly 500 companies. Many of the companies have since folded up, unable to survive the competition amid a fall in piracy off the coast of Somalia.

Piracy remains rampant in the Gulf of Guinea, off the West African coast.