Stuart Edmonston, Head of Loss Prevention at UK P&I Club, together with Hellenic War Risks and Terra Firma Risk Management, highlights the importance of preparation in kidnap response management for shipping companies operating in West Africa
“As the report by Oceans Beyond Piracy revealed, the total number of kidnaps for ransom during 2016 in the Gulf of Guinea has already surpassed the total number of incidents recorded by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) for 2015. Consequently, shipping companies must ensure that ship owners, shipping management, Company Security Officers and crew members have access to experienced and professional advice regarding kidnap response management.
“Owners can make serious mistakes, with potentially dire human and financial consequences if they attempt to negotiate with kidnappers on their own, or if they engage advisers who do not have the requisite experience and expertise.
Bespoke training for ship owners, shipping management, CSOs and crew should focus on:
- Ensuring crews understand the risks of kidnap in the region
- Providing crews with the confidence that, should a kidnap occur, their management is well prepared and professionally advised, and their families will receive the support they need
- Training seafarers, if they are kidnapped, to behave in a way most likely to ensure their safety and quick release
- Giving shipping companies the information and tools they need to be in the best possible position to respond to a kidnap
- Offering the necessary psychological support to crew following the resolution of a kidnapping
“Seafarers in Gulf of Guinea waters should be prepared for a kidnap at all times. For instance, if they take medicines regularly they should always carry a stock on their person. Companies might also consider positioning anti-insect repellent and lightweight mosquito nets on the bridge or on deck so that crew, if taken hostage, can try to take them with them as they are forced to leave the vessel.
“It is important that training for crews covers more than just kidnap survival. Crew confidence will be enhanced if, before they depart for their voyage, they are able to discuss the threat with their families accurately and honestly. Seafarers should also make their families aware of what they should not do. For example, they should not answer any calls from kidnappers.
“Families ought to be persuaded to continue their normal life as far as possible and to have confidence that the company will do all it can to negotiate a release of the hostages as soon as possible.
“With appropriate training and preparation, companies can ensure their crisis management teams and communicators have up-to-date knowledge, workable policies and the right people in the right places, both at sea and onshore, to respond effectively to a kidnap.
“Good preparation often means that a company recovers more quickly and more completely than would otherwise be the case, and further appropriate ‘post incident’ management can minimise the financial and operational impact, as well as ensuring the crew are appropriately looked after. Prudent management of the release, repatriation and ‘post incident’ support will benefit crew, ship owners and underwriters. In many cases the entire crew have returned to sea with the same company, with the confidence that, having been supported through the toughest of times, the company will continue to act in their best interests.”