Private navy set to tackle piracy threat with convoys

The founders of a private navy being launched to escort merchant ships though the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden plan to base the operation in the UAE.

The first of Typhon's three planned escort ships. Once converted, she will have a flush deck to carry fast patrol boats, and be painted gray. Courtesy Typhon
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The founders of a private navy being launched to escort merchant ships through the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden hope to base the operation in the UAE.

Called Typhon, the company already has an office in Dubai and a UAE registered website - - and it says it plans for its force of escort ships to become operational by July. Typhon's tactics will be broadly based on Britain's Royal Navy's basic convoy plan, which proved so effective during the Second World War.

The company, which is based in London, has Simon Murray, the non-executive chairman of the mining giant Glencore, as its chairman, and has on its board, the former chief of the United Kingdom defence staff, Lord Dannatt, and Admiral Harry Ulrich, the former commander of United States naval forces in Europe.

"Typhon was created in order to address the specific threat from pirates in a number of key geographies. The areas we will protect are too vast for current naval resources to monitor effectively," said Typhon's chief executive, Anthony Sharp. "Our mission is to combat the problem of maritime crime and piracy using methods that are both effective and proportionate to the threat.

"With millions paid out in ransoms to pirates and much more money lost by businesses in fuel costs avoiding pirates, it is important that businesses are granted a safer passage with their cargo through dangerous waters. The benefits to business will be substantial."

Typhon is one of two private naval ventures aimed at protecting against the pirate threat. The other, another London-based enterprise, founded by Lloyd's insurance brokers, is the Convoy Escort Programme (CEP). It, however, has still to complete its launch financing. Currently the incidence of pirate attacks in waters around the Gulf is falling, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) - a specialised division of the International Chamber Of Commerce.

"IMB's piracy figures show a welcome reduction in hijackings and attacks to ships. But crews must remain vigilant, particularly in the highly dangerous waters off East and West Africa," said Captain Pottengal Mukundan, the director of the IMB, which has monitored piracy worldwide since 1991.

In Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, just 75 ships reported attacks last year compared with 237 in 2011. This is due to navies deterring piracy off Africa's east coast, with pre-emptive strikes and robust action against mother ships, said the IMB. But the threat and capability of heavily armed Somali pirates remain strong, say both Typhon's Mr Sharp and CEP's spokesman Angus Campbell.

Their services are urgently needed by the shipping industry because Operation Atalanta, the European Union's anti-piracy naval patrol in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden, comes to an end next year, and also current US defence cuts will likely see US naval operations in the area curtailed, they say.

There are also complex legal issues surrounding current anti-pirate protection for merchant ships, specifically the carrying of guns by on-board security teams. Both Typhon and CEP say their defensive models will get around such issues.

The company intends to deploy an initial three converted container feeder ships, each of about 10,000 tonnes, to carry between four and six small fast patrol boats (FPBs) capable of speeds over 40 knots. Typhon has already bought the first container ship and has put out to tender the contract to convert her to yards in the UAE, China and Singapore.

Each ship will carry a crew of 20, and have 40 "security personnel" on board to man the FPBs, recruited from ex-Royal Marines. The ships will also carry a drone, for long range surveillance to detect any suspicious vessels approaching the convoy, which can then be intercepted by an FPB. Although the FPBs will be heavily armed, said Mr Sharp, "this will not be about lethal force matching lethal force. We are there to deter. Once any approaching pirate sees he is facing a credible force, experience tells us he will not risk an attack."