Navigating precarious politics in times of strife

Dealing with a crisis is rarely straight forward, but when a situation becomes politically charged it often morphs into a different beast.
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By Andrew Leahy

Kidnap and ransom

Dealing with a crisis is rarely a straight forward equation but when a situation becomes politically charged it often morphs into a different beast that requires companies to embrace counter-intuitive approaches and be fluid in reading the playing field.

Put simply, when the media glare is on an incident there are politicians and public servants who want to use it to push their own agendas and indeed their own careers.

To paraphrase a kidnap and ransom expert I dealt with recently: “In many ways dealing with the kidnappers is the easiest part; it’s in dealing with the politicians and their embassies, the media and of course the families where the real difficulties lie.”

Unfortunately, over the last 12 months we have dealt with a few cases off West Africa involving pirates and kidnap and ransom and they can prove very challenging in terms of the communications amongst stakeholders.

Obviously, for the families involved it is an extremely harrowing experience and they are desperate for any information they can get. Then there are the embassies involved because each missing seafarer is a national and those tasked at the embassies to follow the cases are always looking for information to prove they are doing their jobs and appease those above asking for answers.

Those above, generally the elected officials, are making very public claims and demands to show they care about their nationals and should therefore remain in office. The problem with this demand for answers is that it doesn’t gel with the realities of kidnap and ransom situations.

K&R specialists try and establish a cool and calm dialogue directly with the kidnappers, limiting outside noise and interference to hopefully create fruitful negotiations to achieve a quick resolution in which the seafarers are released safely.

This process is extremely sensitive and is usually only successfully achieved by highly-trained and privately-employed operatives on the ground with the necessary contacts and experience. The fact is that these situations often arise in and around countries with serious political, social and economic problems and the ability of local authorities to react in a professional and suitable manner is highly questionable.

Certainly, they’ll try and insert themselves into proceedings but inevitably the K&R experts want them limited to providing advise and smoothing out the hostage’s departure upon release. The politics of the situation adds in a lot of moving parts.


The war in Yemen has resulted in several attacks on commercial vessels, many blamed on political motivation to hurt certain owners. Even just the facts around the attacks seem warped by whose version you believe, with significant variations in reports on how many vessels have been attacked and even what they were attacked with?

Venezuela continues to make headlines as it continues its spiral into chaos with a deepening of the economic crisis and political instability, leading experts to forecast violent civil unrest and increased refugee outflows in 2019.

A recent article in Forbes Magazine by Kenneth Rapoza says it best:

“Collapsing oil exports, a hollowing out of the domestic production base, hyperinflation, an exodus of able bodies, sanctions and corruption have brought this country to its knees.”

Recent incidents in Venezuela have seen vessel detentions drag on as differing government departments clamber to mark their territory in blatant attempts to survive the coming “bloodletting”.
One detention can be lifted from one entity yet remain in place from numerous others as they attempt to reinforce their importance in a crumbling system, all understandable as it becomes a survival of the fittest.

Inevitably, though with the world’s biggest proven oil reserves, Venezuela will continue to trade oil on some level but even companies with a long history in Venezuela will be treading very carefully with the knowledge that the precarious political situation could easily lead to entanglements which are not only damaging to reputation but also very damaging to the bottom line.


As the heralded Greek statesman Pericles once said: “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” And in the year of 2019 when there is rising gloom over the economic and political outlook it behoves responsible operators to be aware of the rising dangers.

Depressingly the World Economic Forum’s “Global Risks Report 2019” starts with the question: “Is the world sleepwalking into a crisis? Global risks are intensifying but the collective will to tackle them appears to be lacking. Instead, divisions are hardening.”

So be careful where you step, or indeed ship!

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