The News: Secret anti-pirate base aims to keep ships safe in dangerous waters

A NEW state-of-the-art global anti-piracy centre has been unveiled ahead of a major conference aimed at tackling pirates in Somalia.

The intelligence hub, which is modelled on a Royal Navy operations room, has been set up by maritime security specialists Dryad Maritime at a secret location in the south.

The firm, which was established by former navy warfare specialist Graeme Gibbon-Brooks, helps commercial shipping navigate the troubled pirate-infested waters off the Horn of Africa.

Piracy costs the global economy an estimated £7bn a year and the centre, which is manned round the clock by 20 intelligence experts, guides the movements of around 80 ships and tankers every day.

Such is the work that the company does, the location of its offices is a closely-guarded secret for security reasons

Mr Gibbon-Brooks, 38, said: 'Our job is to keep our clients as far away from pirate vessels as we can.

'We tell commercial ships how to avoid going into dangerous areas.

'We're a lot like a Met office for piracy. We follow patterns and can make forecasts of where pirates are and what they might do next.'

Many of the people who work in the anti-piracy centre are ex-Royal Navy.

Their skills are vital in monitoring and analysing the movements, assaults and trends of pirate action groups around the world.

The company, which was started in July 2007, is going from strength to strength, said Mr Gibbon-Brooks.

He added: 'This ops centre is now fully operational.

'It looks a lot like a ship's operations room and acts like it too.

'There's many ways in which we are looking to expand and diversify and with navies around the world drawing down and reducing in size it means there is more space for the private sector. It also means a lot more skilled staff are around.'

Karen Jacques, chief operating officer at Dryad Maritime, added: 'We expect the threat from piracy to continue.

'We are investing heavily in infrastructure and technology to give our clients an outsourced operations centre that rivals any naval force.'

The opening of the centre comes just a week before the London Somali Conference, hosted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Senior representatives from more than 40 governments and international organisations will be at the major event starting on February 23 to develop a new approach to tackle the global threat of piracy on the high seas.