An international security expert has warned Australian companies operating in Africa to pay close attention to their security arrangements, saying kidnapping and ransom incidents are on the rise across the continent.
A veteran of Australia's Special Air Service Regiment, Tim Curtis, is now the managing director of international operations for Unity Resources Group, which provides risk advisory and security services for companies across the globe. Unity also has a crisis services division that specialises in negotiating the release of kidnapping victims. It says it has dealt with 1340 kidnapping and extortion cases in 70 countries.
In Perth to speak on kidnapping trends at tomorrow's forum organised by research institute Future Directions International, Mr Curtis said incidents in Africa are on the rise.
"In the 1990s, more than 90 per cent of incidents were in Latin America. Now we're seeing about 50 per cent of incidents in Latin America, and there's been a huge geographic shift across into Africa, and now it's snaking into Asia," he said.
Mr Curtis said Nigeria now has 25 per cent of the world's reported kidnapping incidents, and it is an emerging problem in Kenya, Mozambique and Mali - all host to Australian resource companies. Unity estimates that about 200 kidnappings of foreign workers and visitors were reported in Africa over the past eight months.
"I would suggest that many companies working in those markets are unlikely to have specific mitigating measures," he said.
"Those measures would include everything from risk management plans, to traveller tracking, to making sure there are standard operating procedures for security."
Now a multi-billion dollar global problem, Mr Curtis said foreign nationals were the target of about 10 per cent of kidnapping attempts, with criminals targeting business people and aid workers, as well as rich travellers. He said incidents ranged from simple street-level crime, such as holding a person and forcing them to make multiple withdrawals from an ATM, to operations by organised crime gangs that put in long hours of surveillance before making a snatch.Mr Curtis said 90 per cent of kidnapping victims were eventually released, with a ransom paid in 70 per cent of cases. "There's only one buyer and one seller. As long as you can meet in the middle on terms, you're going to get a release," he said.