Employees traveling abroad today arguably face more risks than ever before. From the continued rise of financial-based kidnappings in Somalia, Nigeria, Colombia and Mexico to the proliferation of fanatical-based hostage-taking in the Islamic world, travelers can seemingly be nabbed anywhere at anytime. To shed some light on this scourge of globalization, we talked with Yan Bui of Clements International. As commercial account executive in the global organizations division of Clements, she specializes in high-risk insurance for NGOs and has become such an expert in kidnap and ransom insurance that she has gained the title of “K&R Queen” among her colleagues and clients.
RM: Somalia has become the new hot spot for piracy and kidnapping. Why are we seeing such an uptick in attacks in that region? Somalia is essentially a “failed state” at this point, so lawlessness is the norm, but has there simply been an awareness that there is money to be made by attacking commercial ships along with an increasingly sophisticated structure to pull it off?
Yan Bui: Somali pirates have perfected their kidnapping skills and have made it into a very lucrative business. As long as ransom monies continue to be paid, there are no perceived consequences and the benefits outweigh the risks, piracy will continue to be a credible threat for ships traveling through the region.
RM: Is there anything that can be done to combat the threat?
Bui: It can be argued that ships traveling to pirate-infested waters such as the Gulf of Aden can adequately safeguard their vessels from attack. Tactics such as traveling further from the shoreline, using nonlethal deterrents, including water hoses or barbed wire on the deck, or using a security team on board should be reviewed by the companies traveling through the region.
RM: For the most part, the harm inflicted by the Somali threat has been more economic than physical to personnel onboard hijacked vessels. Obviously this isn’t always the case in other areas, including Mexico, Colombia and Nigeria. And in parts of the Muslim world-specifically, Iraq and Afghanistan-kidnapping is much less financially motivated and harm, up to and including death, is a much greater possibility. Are there any rules of thumb or specific trends that companies and travelers should be aware of in some of these different regions?
Bui: Before traveling to any foreign country, whether it is Mexico, Iraq or Somalia, travelers should always review security alerts and risks. They can review the warning updates on travel.state.gov and use other online resources. If a person is traveling to higher-risk countries for business, they should find out what their company’s procedures and risk protocols are, and make sure they receive any relevant training, if available.
RM: What types of insurance coverage do you recommend, and what risk factors do you look at when advising a company about what they need?
Bui: Recommended insurance coverages will vary depending on the location to which the employee is traveling. For example, an employee that sends a traveler to Western Europe may not face the same risks as one traveling to more volatile regions like Somalia, Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan. The threats facing travelers going to higher-risk regions call for unique insurance coverages, such as kidnap and ransom [K&R], accidental death and dismemberment [AD&D] or evacuation policies.
K&R policies will respond in the event that an employee is kidnapped and held for ransom or if the employee is wrongfully detained by foreign government agents. Personal accident policies like AD&D coverage with no war and terrorism exclusion can be beneficial in the event that an employee is injured or killed as a result of hostile acts, such as a gunshot or improvised explosive device attack. Unlike other life and health policies, personal accident policies do not exclude war or terrorism, so they will respond in higher-risk locations where insurgent or terrorist activity can be prevalent. Companies should also review policies that provide for evacuation coverages in the event that employees need to be evacuated from a country due to political, medical or security risks.
RM: What can companies do to better educate traveling employees? Should everyone receive some sort of formal training or is this better reserved for just high-level, high-target executives?
Bui: Organizations should provide adequate training to all employees traveling abroad. Giving them basic safety and security tips can greatly help reduce the threat of kidnapping or other risks overseas.
RM: If prevention efforts fail and the worst-case scenario does happen, what is the first thing a company should do after an employee is kidnapped?
Bui: If a company does have a K&R policy in place, the first course of action would be to activate the crisis responder associated with the insurance company. Every K&R policy provides access to a crisis response team who is available 24/7 to assist the client in the event of a kidnapping or other crisis. The crisis responders will work with the company’s internal crisis management team to negotiate the successful release of any kidnapped employee.