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The Australian: "Sending The Pirate Trade Off The Plank"


War Hero
TO THE overstretched team from the Royal Navy, the task of defending shipping in the Indian Ocean from Somali pirates felt like providing police cover for western Europe with six patrol cars.

The two dozen British sailors and marines, based in Bahrain, were until just before Christmas responsible for co-ordinating half a dozen warships across 2.5m square miles of ocean.

The pirates sail in dhows, often indistinguishable from peaceful fishing craft but are capable of crippling an oil tanker with a rocket-propelled grenade or kidnapping western sailors such as Paul and Rachel Chandler, the married couple from Kent held hostage for more than a year.

General Sir David Richards, chief of the defence staff, recently summed up the problems of the Royal Navy in fighting the war on pirates. "You get to this ridiculous situation where in Operation Atalanta off the Somali coast, we have pounds 1bn ($A1.5b) destroyers trying to sort out pirates in a little dhow with RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] costing $50 with an outboard motor [costing] $100," he said. "That can't be good."

Now, shortly after the Royal Navy team in Bahrain handed over the leadership of the combined taskforce to its Australian counterpart, a private British rival has been set up to deter the pirates.

Typhon, in some respects, is a throwback to the days when a private navy patrolled the seas on behalf of the East India Company. The British businessman Simon Murray, 72, chairman of Typhon, has seen at close quarters the economic damage wreaked by pirates, as chairman of Glencore, the world's largest commodity trader.

The total cost of Somali piracy in 2011 was an estimated $A6.13b - with the cost of ransom ($A150m) dwarfed by the cost of extra fuel ($A2.6bn) as well as military costs, security guards and the cost of insurance.

In Britain, we are all paying at the petrol pumps and in the price of imported goods that cross an area bounded to the south by Madagascar, to the east by the Indian coast and to the north by the Arabian Sea.

Official figures show that piracy has dropped from its peak. The European Union naval force says the number of attacks by Somali pirates in 2012 was 35, down from 176 in 2011, but the ocean remains a "war risk area", with high insurance premiums.

As the pirates have become bolder, shipping has been forced to swing round to the east, adding 700 nautical miles to a voyage south from the Horn of Africa to the Cape.

Now Murray is to take on the pirates in this game of high seas chicken. Typhon is in talks to buy a 9,000-ton, 426ft close protection vessel that will be used to direct a convoy taking the shortest, and highest-risk, route along the coast and through the Mozambique channel. Typhon plans to operate two further "mother ships" in other dangerous waters.

Commodore Jonathan Handley, a Briton who commanded HMS Portland in the Gulf and became deputy director of the now-disbanded US Second Fleet, will lead operations, with Commander Jason Scott. The first convoy is expected to sail in late March or April.

Each mother ship will have a crew of 60, with 20 remaining on the vessel and the rest pursuing the pirates on three armoured fast patrol boats, capable of 40 knots. Anthony Sharp, the chief executive of Typhon, said: "Some are ex-Royal Marines and have done six tours of Afghanistan."

The crews will serve on board for a period of 6-8 weeks and a similar period off, implying total a crew of 120 for each mother ship and its associated patrol boats. Sharp plans to launch the second convoy service against piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, west Africa, by the autumn. With a third service in prospect, he will require a total crew of about 360.

Sharp says investors in Typhon include big shipping lines and family investment offices. Some clients, who are likely to include the oil giants, could halve their insurance premiums. Sharp has suggested to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence that they could sub-contract the job of protecting British shipping to his firm. "I'd ultimately prefer to have the UK government as a client as opposed to lots of different shipowners," he said.

Despite Murray's youthful stint in the French Foreign Legion, the ethos of Typhon will be to use force only as a last resort. It will seek to detect pirates through sea-based radar, satellite and a land-based operations centre to receive real-time data on all shipping movements.

Only if pirates mount a determined attack on a member of the convoy will Typhon retaliate: its weapons will have a range four times greater than those used by ships' "ride-on guards". Crucially, the Typhon crews will fire from armoured patrol boats, rather than risk drawing hostile fire to the oil tankers they are protecting.

The MoD said: "The Royal Navy remains at the forefront of international counter-piracy operations. A Royal Navy frigate currently supports the coalition counter-piracy operation off Somalia; it supports NATO counter-piracy operations with focused surges of units; and it commands the European Union counter-piracy mission as well as providing support to World Food Program vessels as they transit to and from Somalia."

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War Hero
Interesting article / link from the RFAA:-

New Anti Piracy Force

I hope this isn't true.

Are you doubting the media reports?

It is true - Typhon recently advertised for a number of senior appointments both for Operations and Support roles. A high risk venture in so many ways but not short of capital funding. I understood it was to be based out of Abu Dhabi but stand to be corrected given the fluid nature of the project (no pun intended!)

The executive recruitment was being done/coordinated by a former "Flags" to 1SL I understand.

No disrespect to our cousins but hopefully the heavy RN/Ex-RN involvement will at least drive this project towards a mature and sensible policy on force protection rather than some gung ho Blackwater style operation (fingers crossed)
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