Anthony Sharp, pirate hunter

Somalian pirates cost shipping £12bn every year. Now Anthony Sharp and his who's who of former military top brass have set up Typhon - an escort service through the dangerous waters.

Governments and ship-owners have been wringing their hands for years about the problem of piracy off the Somali coast. One British entrepreneur has a solution, says Jonathan Sibun in The Daily Telegraph. Anthony Sharp plans to launch a private navy, boasting it "will be the first of its kind for probably 200 years".

Sharp has assembled a stellar cast to support the venture, Typhon'. The chairman is Simon Murray the former French Foreign Legionnaire who also chairs commodities giant Glencore and the board is heaving with retired top brass.

Lord Dannatt, ex-Chief of the General Staff is a director; so too are General Sir Jack Deverell, ex-commander of Allied Forces Northern Europe, and Admiral Harry Ulrich, ex-head of US naval forces in Europe. "Quite a roll-call for a company that's just completing its first fund-raising of just $15m, and has yet to put to sea."

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Sharp is hardly the archetypal "all-action" man. Indeed, this is his first brush with the security industry. He says he got the idea two years ago "while playing polo". A potted biography in Businessweek suggests he has been a prolific investor since the age of 17 involved in everything from pubs and electronic publishing, to early-stage investments in

Yet he has remained well beneath the mainstream business radar. Sharp first came to notice in Britain as the chairman (and 35% shareholder) of Cashbox, a cash machine specialist that floated on Aim in 2006, valued at £12m. It had plans to flood pubs, clubs and shops with its machines, says Ben Laurance in The Sunday Times.

Investors were reassured by two big names on its board: John Maples, a former Tory Treasury minister; and Robin Saunders, the one-time "queen of private equity".

But in November 2006, the High Court ruled that the firm's chief executive, Carl Thomas, had been "deceitful and wrong" to poach a large contract with Thresher from his previous employer, Hanco, which sought £2m in damages. Sharp had known of the danger when Cashbox floated: the prospectus featured an indemnity against a Hanco claim. But it wasn't secured.

In February 2007, Thomas was fired for insider dealing; Sharp departed a few months later, claiming his job was done. Cashbox staggered on until 2010, when it went into administration.

Sharp had moved on. His next venture, Earthshine International, started out as a mobile-phone distributor. After making a splash in 2007 when it listed on the US Pink Sheet' index as "a global commodities trading company", it disappeared emerging only to fight a protracted VAT battle with HMRC and to announce the acquisition of British small-cap specialist, Berkeley Consultants, for £2.25m in 2010. Since then, it's all gone quiet. Call it the lull before the Typhon.

The $135m a year trade in pirate shares

In Greek mythology, Typhon was "the father of all monsters" terrifying even the gods. Anthony Sharp will be hoping his modern namesake inspires similar emotions in Somalian pirates. His plan, as outlined to Reuters, looks straightforward.

Based in Abu Dhabi, and manned by former Royal Marines, Typhon will provide an escort service for ships typically consisting of an armed mother vessel, backed by patrols of armed guards in "ribs" (rigid inflatable boats).

Protecting vessels against piracy is nothing new, says The Daily Telegraph. But, so far, security operators such as Mast and G4S have done it primarily via "vessel protection details": ships buying protection pick up a security team from one port and drop it at another. "It's not a great protection model," says Sharp. "You're taking the fight to the protected vessel and taking shots inbound. Our model is based on putting an exclusion zone around a convoy."

If Typhon which claims it has already secured backing from two Asian shipping companies can make its model work, demand may be high. Pirate attacks are estimated to cost £12bn a year, most of which is borne by shipping companies, commodity traders and insurers.

In 2011, pirates scooped some $135m in ransom money. Given their growing mastery of logistics and finance, says The Economist, the figures look set to rise. The pirates' increasingly sophisticated operations are funded by "investors" buying shares in their teams, traded on local "stock exchanges".

Typhon's board is likely to prove the company's trump card in securing business. "Simon [Murray] will come in very useful," says Sharp. "He's already introduced me to guys at Glencore." Ultimately, he hopes to have ten vessels on the water within 24 months. But he doesn't intend to hang around. "We'll build this business over three years and sell it to someone like G4S."