It’s a covert industry where prices are secret and companies work with some of the world’s most dangerous criminals. But as deadly kidnappings around the world continue to grow, so too does the multi-billion dollar industry designed to keep people safe. 

Stening Simpson Group’s Kidnap, Ransom and Extortion CEO Peter Stening said kidnap and ransom (K&R) insurance is used by companies in virtually “any industry you can think of” to protect staff in cases of kidnapping, extortion, hijacking and wrongful detention.

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It’s offered by a range of giants like AIG and AON as well as specialist players and is estimated to be used by at least 75 per cent of Fortune 500 companies — but most of the time people don’t even know they have it.

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 “The only people that know are the Chairman and the CFO. The employees don’t know that they have kidnap and ransom cover. It’s simply because if they have no knowledge of the cover, it gives our negotiators a leverage point that there’s no insurance in place,” Mr. Stening said.

“We look at a corporation who would have 1000 employees across the globe. We ascertain the number of trips they’re doing, what countries, what cities and we calculate the risk based on information we keep internally.”

While the concept has been around since the 1930s, the multi-billion dollar industry has boomed in recent years along with the rise of piracy, kidnapping and extortion as a means of financing terrorist groups.

Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout and Australian photo journalist Nigel Brennan were held hostage in Somalia for 462 days before they were released via private negotiations. Pictured is a photo from a Facebook support page. Source: Supplied

UN estimates show extremist organisations have earned around $153 million from ransom payments between 2004 and 2012 in what has been described as an “easy spoil” by the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Wuhayshi.

Mr. Stening said in addition to higher ransoms, the number of hot spots has also grown with “express kidnaps” — where a group demands money within a 12-hour window — also common.

“They’re evolving. Once upon a time Thailand was considered reasonably safe. You’ve not got militant groups there that’ve cottoned on to the fact they can use kidnaps as a source of income,” he said.

“Afghanistan, Somalia, Kenya, Indonesia, all of those places are potentially kidnap-prone. With groups like ISIS coming to the fore they’re using that as an income stream.”

Italian women Vanessa Marzullo and Greta Ramelli were kidnapped in Syria and released to Syria after a reported ransom payment believed to be morethan $12 million.  Source: AFP

For Nigel Brennan, a photojournalist-turned-response consultant who was held captive in Somalia for 462 days along with Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout, private negotiators were essential to secure his release after the Australian government failed to do so.

“Everyone looks at kidnapping and thinks it’s mysterious. It actually isn’t. The whole thing is about advancing the case. Most government’s think they’ll grind them down … never have I heard a bigger bulls**t story in my life. That’s just a stalling tactic because they don’t know what to do,” he said.

“My family employed a private kidnap and ransom expert from the UK and within 100 days he had a worked with my sister and [Amanda Lindhout’s] mother to basically negotiate a ransom payment.”

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Mr. Brennan said while people can argue paying ransoms puts a target on the heads of citizens of certain countries, the reality is “kidnapping has been an industry since Genghis Khan”.

“People are going to say you’re creating an industry [but] everyone insures themselves for different things. I would be surprised if the top one per cent don’t all have kidnap policies for themselves and their children, they’re the targets.”

“They should have a right to be able to do that. If they’re wanting to fork out the money. But if you get taken in Syria your policy for a couple of million dollars isn’t going to cut it with the asking prices going around.”

Despite its prevalence, whether or not the insurance is held is usually kept secret amid fears it would encourage more kidnappings and raise premiums.

Mr. Stening said his company acts completely independently of government and takes charge once a demand for ransom is received — which can range from $2000 to several million dollars.

“That puts us on notice that someone has been taken. We then demand proof of life so we’re not buying a corpse. Once proof of life has been established, we begin negotiating,” he said.

The company has never lost an “asset” in 38 years in the industry but he said in reality “it all comes down to a price.”

“They have an asset that we want back so we negotiate on that basis.”

British journalist John Cantile is still held hostage by the Islamic State and has been
forced to appear in videos and write articles for the terrorist group. Source: Supplied

Source : – 5 February 2015