The projected fleet will comprise commercial container vessels converted for the purpose, with the first fast-patrol boats currently being built. The company is “in discussions with two governments” over flag registration and arms licenses. “We'll be operational in May or June,” Sharp says.
Typhon will run two operations centers, one in London and one in the United Arab Emirates, and intends to create its own operational intelligence picture, using a proprietary tracking system and satellite coverage provided by Inmarsat. This intelligence will be made available as a commercial product, and shared at no charge with national and international counter-piracy bodies.
Sharp believes that shipping companies and multinational corporations that rely on safe passage of goods through pirated waters are ready to pay for a maritime close-protection service.
Typhon's board includes Simon Murray, non-executive chairman of Swiss-based commodities giant Glencore; Adm. (ret.) Henry G. “Harry” Ulrich, 3rd, former commander of U.S. Naval Forces-Europe; and former British Chief of General Staff Gen. (ret.) Lord Dannatt. Sharp also believes the potential market extends beyond shipping companies and their customers, and to areas other than the Indian Ocean. Nations without sufficient naval assets are ready to look to a private solution, he argues, and he envisions fast growth for Typhon's services.
The shipping industry “is already absorbing costs whether they like it or not,” he says. “It's costing them £7 billion ($10.5 billion) a year in extra fuel, in armed guards, in ransom payments. Oil thefts alone in the Gulf of Guinea cost the Nigerian government $1 billion a month—7% of its output of crude oil is being stolen.”
Sharp compares Typhon's service to the kind of close protection provided by private security companies to individuals, and sees no reason why a private maritime protection fleet cannot operate alongside navies or international alliances in much the same way that private security firms complement national police and security services.
“To a certain degree, it's not any of our business,” says EU Navfor's Olive of possible interaction with a private naval force. “It's for the merchant vessel industry to decide what measures it wants to take to mitigate the risks. We'd note that, to date, any vessel that has carried a private armed security team hasn't been successfully attacked by pirates, and that's to be welcomed. Private armed security is, to a certain degree, like a subcontractor—and the primary organizations we deal with are industry. So it would be unlikely that we would ever be dealing direct with any private security firms.”