When asking students on our hostile environments courses, “What is the biggest threat to your safety and security when operating in ………”, this blank could be filled with “West Africa”, “The Middle East” or “South America”, among many other areas. But their answer, without fail, is “kidnap”.
The reality is that disease and road traffic incidents are the most likely threats, yet – thanks to the internet and global 24-hour news coverage – images of orange jumpsuit-clad individuals, chained and pleading for help, that seemed to stream from Iraq, and what appears to be a proliferation of kidnappings in the Niger Delta, have instilled the belief that kidnap, whether for ransom or for religious and political objectives, is the most pressing threat to their security.
It is, however, true that personnel employed in the energy sector have both financial and political value, and their seizure is always newsworthy.
When coupled with the fact that many of the world’s energy hotspots and strategic transit routes are governed by corrupt administrations, have separatist issues or other violence-inducing internal difficulties or radicalised and discontented elements of their populations, it is a wonder that the industry has survived this long, let alone be among the few, thus far at least, to be surviving the global financial crisis.
Despite the perception of this risk outweighing the reality of its likelihood, it is not a risk that can be taken lightly. Indeed, perception alone can impact on a company’s operational success, with personnel refusing to deploy to, for example, Nigeria.
Of course, there are certain areas of the world in which the threat is more prevalent, and it is no secret that hostile conditions have failed to ease in the normative hotspots such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Colombia.
The rising profile of kidnap as a viable industry is being fuelled by inconsistent and occasionally irresponsible employer and state responses; and an increase in newsworthy cases only appears to be stoking the intent of armed groups around the world to take up the tactic as a means of finance.
Preparatory and mitigation measures are therefore crucially important to the industry. Insurance policies and evacuation, training for working in these regions, pre-deployment briefings and emergency response training for office-based crisis management teams must be considered and, ideally, implemented as part of a company’s wider crisis management plan.
Globally, there is no sign of a downward trend in kidnappings, and especially kidnap for ransom. Among the world’s kidnap hotspots, only the Philippines has enjoyed a steady and verifiable decline in incidents, largely as a result of an ongoing crackdown on local kidnap rings and organised crime groups.
Kidnap for ransom is likely to persist, however, particularly given corruption among the security forces.
The countries with the consistently highest risk of kidnap remain Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines and Somalia.
Some of the common underlying factors contributing to the pervasiveness of the problem in all of these countries can be identified as the limited enforceability of the law, organised crime, rampant corruption across state institutions and the availability of attractive targets, such as personnel without sufficient protection, whose abduction would further the kidnappers’ political, ideological or financial goals.
The presence of separatist, Islamist or radical leftist organisations, such as FARC in Colombia, al Qaida in Iraq, MEND in Nigeria and Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines, exacerbates the risk of kidnapping in these countries.
The lack of an effective central authority is a significant contributor to the grave threat of kidnapping in conflict-ridden Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, where radical Islamist groups frequently target local and foreign personnel alike.
Claire Fleming is corporate relations manager at security specialist AKE