Coming Soon: Private Navy – The Blackwater of the High Seas


Beware, pirates of Africa. You may have outlasted years of patrols from the world’s navies. You may have driven fear into the hears of shipping magnates and sent insurance rates skyrocketing. But now you’ll have to contend with a dapper British investor who is seeking to privatize the fight against seafaring brigands.

Anthony Sharp, a 50-year-old veteran of tech startups, grew up with a love for ships. On February 7, he’ll turn that boyhood affection into what might be the first private navy since the 19th century. Sharp’s newest company, Typhon, will offer a fleet of armed ex-Royal Marines and sailors to escort commercial ships through pirate-infested waters. In essence, Typhon wants to be the Blackwater of the sea, minus the stuff about accidentally killing civilians.

Sharp thinks the market is ripe for Typhon, a company named for a monster out of Greek myth. Budget cuts are slicing into the wallets of the militaries that provide protection from pirates. The conflicts and weak governments that incubate piracy in places like Somalia persist. “Maritime crime is growing at the same time that navies are shrinking,” Sharp tells Danger Room by telephone from the U.K. “The policemen are going off the beat.” Sharp thinks that creates a potent opportunity for the fleet he’s buying.

But he might be too late. Without much notice, piracy actually declined in 2012, bringing down the high insurance rates that send shipping companies running for armed protection. Meanwhile, the market for such security is being filled by companies that station armed guards aboard commercial ships to deter or combat pirates. That practice, known as “embarked security,” follows years of security firms, including Blackwater itself, trying and mostly failing at amassing fleets to escort commercial ships – Typhon’s model.

Sharp says he’s heard the objections and is undeterred. “We’ve got personnel. We’ve got clients,” he insists. And when Typhon launches on February 7 and begins operations in April, Sharp won’t just take a gamble on a market much different than the ones he made his money in. He’ll reintroduce the world to the forgotten concept of a private navy. And the U.S. Navy is watching, with much curiosity.

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