Somali pirates
Somali pirates hunting international shipping in the Indian Ocean

A UK fleet created by a group of businessmen is seeking out pirates in the Indian Ocean.

Its armed vessels include a 10,000-tonne mother ship and high-speed armoured patrol boats. It will be led by an ex-Royal Navy commodore who is in charge of recruiting 240 former marines and sailors for the unit.

Starting in the next few months, the seafaring craft will escort oil tankers, bulk carriers and yachts around the east coast of Africa.

The company behind the scheme is Typhon, set up because the Royal Navy, Nato and the European Union Naval Force lack the vessels to patrol the area, which is as large as North America.

"They can't do the job because they haven't got the budget," Anthony Sharp, chief executive of Typhon, told the Sunday Times.

"Deploying a billion-pound warship against six guys [pirates] with $500 of kit is not a very good use of the asset."

The mastermind behind the scheme is Simon Murray, who joined the French Foreign Legion as a teenager. The 55-year-old millionaire is also chairman of Glencore, one of the world's largest commodities traders.

The pirates will face armoured patrol boats kitted out with battle weapons such as the M4 carbine and sniper rifles with a range of 2km. They are capable of top speeds of 40 knots and able to withstand Kalashnikov fire.

Typhon said its aim is one of defence - to deter pirates from attacking its convoys - rather than aggressively engaging in firefights.

The private navy aims to sail under a sovereign flag which gives them the legal right to carry weapons into harbour.

The UK venture will be funded by shipping firms in the same way that cargo ships sailing under Chinese, Indian and Russian flags hire private armed escorts.

During 2010, 53 ships were hijacked with a total of eight crew killed in the skirmishes. The number of incidents dropped by more than half from 117 ships hijacked in 2009 due to naval deterrence and increased use of self-protection measures.

There has been no successful hijacking since June 2012, when a fishing dhow was seized, according to data from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

It marks the longest unbroken stretch of peaceful transit through the waters off Somalia, and was attributed to the increased use of armed guards on ships and international naval patrols.

"We have seen no activity whatsoever in the southern Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Arabia or the Somali Basin," said Cyrus Mody at the IMB's London office.

"It's the first time we've had a full month where nothing's happened since before Somali piracy really grew into a major problem in 2007."