5 Jul 2012
Kidnapping risks assessed
A recent article published in The Economist (‘Buying safety’ 9-15 June 2012) looked at the rather dispassionate processes involved by risk-management firms during negotiations in cases of kidnapping.
Hostage negotiations, the article says, invariably result in successful results:
“Usually run by former special forces, intelligence analysts and lawyers, these firms have a good record of bringing kidnap victims home safely if expensively (only the rich or the insured can afford the rates, which start at $3,000 per day).”
And undoubtedly it is the wealthiest individuals, or rather their families that are the targets of such plots. If anything, it could be argued that kidnappings of guests and family members is a more pertinent and real security concern for superyacht owners than piracy. As the article continues, the ransom process can be a tricky business: “too high an offer may signal weakness, driving up the price; too low and the gang may hurt the victim to show that it has determined to extort more. To arrive at an agreed price, which is usually a fraction of the gang’s opening bid, can take months.”
It would be considered poor form to highlight potential high net worth kidnapping hotspots, but they undoubtedly exist, and visiting superyachts and their passengers are at much greater risk in certain areas. That is why adequate shoreside security at marina facilities is of paramount importance, as is awareness on the part of captain, crew and owner on what constitutes safe cruising.
Meanwhile the threat of kidnapping for ransom is such a sensitive area for underwriters that policies guarding against such incidents remain hidden under lock and key, and are made available only to the most trusted staff.
The threat of the first is unlikely to encompass superyacht owners, because there is very little likelihood of them taking their yachts to areas of political or social unrest.
The second threat - a planned operation – is not of primary concern presuming that the owner has taken adequate steps to protect themselves and others on board, in the form of consultation with a risk management firm, as described above. Furthermore, the group will invariably be protected by a specialist security firm and will follow a pre-planned itinerary. The risk rises however, the longer they are ‘static’ in one port.
But, in McCourt’s opinion, the biggest kidnapping threat to a superyacht party is the ‘opportunist snatch’. As he explained, “Crewmembers are potentially the highest risk [targets], in terms of probability if not ransom value, primarily on the issue of ‘perceived wealth’.” They can unwittingly place themselves in vulnerable positions – alone ashore during the day, or visiting nightspots – and this vulnerability is heightened if they are wearing branded clothing. Little matter, McCourt said, that they may be of junior rank; they are instantly associated with vast sums of wealth.
“An attempt on them is likely to be hastily planned, crude, and likely to be more violent with a greater risk of injury or death”, he continued. “Sensible precautions would be to avoid obvious identifying clothing when ashore, obvious displays of wealth, including large cash purchases, and caution when dealing with locally employed help or service providers.” McCourt also said that staff training on risk management, conduct after detention and incident management was insufficient on board many yachts and that captains and managers should address this.
Kidnapping was among the threats posed to owners that were discussed at the 2012 Superyacht Security Summit. Transcripts of the day's sessions are available here.
Watkins Superyachts Profile | Watkins Superyachts Website
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