Risks Ahead in the South China Sea

by John-Clark Levin & Graham Penrose, TMG Corporate Services (Intelography), January.04, 2015

MADRID –- The past year has seen a bold new round of provocations in the South China Sea, where the People’s Republic of China is trying to expand its regional hegemony. The central issue is territorial. According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, nations can claim exclusive economic rights in waters up to 200 nautical miles off their coastline. Where these zones would overlap, claims generally go to the nearest state.

According to these principles, most of the economically vital South China Sea is shared between Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines. But China claims the Spratly islands, a rocky and unpopulated archipelago deep inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ)—and the Paracel islands, a group of reefs and islands close to Vietnam.


According to Beijing, its EEZ projects from both island chains, which puts almost the entire South China Sea in Chinese hands. At stake is strategic control of sea lanes that carry an estimated $5.3 trillion in annual trade, highly lucrative fishing stocks, and promising oil and gas resources. Although most of the South China Sea’s proven reserves lie in undisputed areas, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that about 2.5 billion barrels of oil and 25.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas may be available around the Spratlys.

In addition to these economic incentives, the dispute is also motivated by China’s aspirations to assert itself as the preeminent power in Asia. China’s latest tactics have serious security consequences for everyone with an interest in the South China Sea. Not content to pursue its dispute through lengthy lawsuits and international arbitration, Beijing is attempting to gain an advantage by changing the “facts on the ground.”


That is, by gaining effective control over disputed areas, China can strengthen its legal position in the sense of the old saying “possession is nine tenths of the law.” If it can actively exploit the disputed zones and convince world markets to accept its claims, other nations’ legal objections will be largely moot. China is working to establish such control by a combination of unilateral resource grabs and confrontational moves against rival militaries in the region.

On January 1 of last year, China instituted new rules requiring foreign fishing vessels to obtain permits in order to fish in much of the South China Sea. The move drew criticism from Vietnam, the Philippines, and the United States, but none were in a position to force the Chinese to back down. In an excellent analysisthe following month, analyst Robert Haddick called out Beijing for pursuing a policy of “salami-slicing”.

The metaphor contextualizes the new fishing restrictions as part of a larger pattern of incremental moves that included the sudden establishment of a Chinese city on Woody Island in the Paracels in July 2012, and the declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea in November 2013. In 2014, Chinese survey vessels have reportedly been operating discreetly in the Philippines’ EEZ, likely to gain a better sense of the petroleum resources that might be available there. Beijing was clearly betting that no single step would be enough for its neighbors to risk armed conflict—but that collectively, they would achieve China’s goal of controlling the South China Sea.

In the months that followed, the salami-slicing continued. In March 2014, Chinese Coast Guard vessels turned back a pair of ships sent by Manila to reprovision Filipino troops stationed on a disputed outpost in the Spratlys. Then in May, China set up a billion-dollar oil rig unannounced in disputed waters off Vietnam, surrounded by a flotilla of protective ships from the Chinese Maritime Police Bureau.


Vietnamese vessels went out to meet them, leading to several days of vigorous clashes between the two sides, using water cannons and ramming actions. In June, Hanoi released video of a Chinese vessel ramming a Vietnamese fishing boat that soon sank. China appears not to have suffered any comparable losses. In July, China unilaterally withdrew the rig— stating that it had completed its exploratory mission — but Vietnam would have been in no position to prevent it from staying.

Then, in August, a Chinese fighter intercepted an American reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea, performing abrupt manoeuvres perilously close to the U.S. aircraft. This risked a repeat of the 2001 incident off Hainan Island where such a mid-air collision led to a diplomatic crisis after the crew of the crippled American plane was interned on Chinese soil for 11 days. Instead of sober reflection, Chinese Rear Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong exhorted his pilots: “A knife at the throat is the only deterrence. From now on, we must fly even closer to U.S. surveillance aircraft”.

This combination of brinksmanship and salami-slicing by incremental and escalating actions is dangerous indeed. The worst-case scenario, of course, is a full-on armed confrontation—but both the Chinese and their opponents realize that war would be catastrophic. Much more likely is a steady drumbeat of small grabs that pose risk to those wishing to do business in the South China Sea.

In 2012, China National Offshore Oil Corp invited foreign companies to bid on nine oil exploration blocks within Vietnam’s internationally-recognized EEZ, apparently including some areas which had already been leased out by Vietnam. While major firms like Exxon Mobil have so far avoided wading into the disputed zones, and will likely continue to do so, smaller players with less to lose have expressed interest. In comparison, around the same time, the Philippines invited bidding on two oil blocks in disputed territory, but received rather little interest.


Going forward, how oil and gas companies invest their money will send a strong signal about who is winning the struggle for the South China Sea. Those who lease disputed blocks from Vietnam or the Philippines are betting that China will ultimately bow to pressure by the United States and its allies in the region. Those who lease from China are betting that Beijing’s grabs will prove irreversible.

Whatever firms bet, there will be more provocations. Survey ships and drilling platforms can expect to be harassed by the other side, and company personnel and equipment may be endangered by the struggle going on around them. Some firms will likely hire private security vessels for protection. Although such forces would be no match for Chinese warships in an armed confrontation, their presence would make it riskier and more difficult to drive away client assets. Armed guards aboard platforms could be employed as an additional deterrent.

This poses serious risks, though—untrained private security could instigate a clash by mistake, and even a small spark in the South China Sea has the potential to escalate to international conflict. Further, the 100 Series Rules for the Use of Force, which were developed in 2013 to provide broad guidance for private maritime security companies, are intended for actions against pirates, and would not provide sound guidance for potential standoffs with state actors. For companies wishing to hire security, then, retaining only the most experienced and professional private maritime security companies must be a priority.

About John-Clark Levin is an author and maritime security expert, currently pursuing his research at Harvard University. He has written for publications such as the Wall Street JournalSouthern Economic JournalPacific Maritime Magazine, and War on the Rocks. He has lectured on the subject of private maritime security at institutions such as Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University, the Center for Security Policy, and the U.S. Naval War College.
About Graham Penroseis the owner of TMG Corporate Services, Intelography & JGE Kinetics: Established in 1994 TMG Corporate Services serves clients in Europe, the USA, Asia-Pac and Africa providing Private Maritime Security Services; Private Military Security Services; Global Asset Tracing & Recovery; Security & Risk Management; Specialist Surveillance Services; Counter & Anti Surveillance Services; Human Intelligence (HUMINT); Open Source Intelligence (OSINT); Close Protection Services; Digital Forensics, Image Enhancement & eDiscovery and HEAT (Hostile Environment Awareness Training). JGE Kinetics sources and supplies – under license / EUC – armaments, armoured vehicles, surveillance equipment, UAV drones and military communications equipment.

About Intelography: Intelography offers subscription based access to risk profiling, threat assessments and security trends for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Providing content and insights that allow organizations to inform the process of reacquiring, recommissioning, maintaining and protecting (physical and human) assets in conflict, post conflict or high risk areas. Content and analysis includes contributions from staff analysts, internationally recognized subject matter experts, guest contributors, content syndication from established industry observers and service providers, thought leaders, complimented by an extensive network of in country contributors (Israel, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, CIS, Ukraine, Russia, the Balkans, West Africa). Subscription pricing varies according to access requirements and is offered on an ad-hoc, region specific or global access basis. Additional services include one-to-one analyst Q&A’s, workshops, consulting, and re-publication rights.

References
1. http://www.cfr.org/world/armed-clash-south-china-sea/p27883
2. http://www.eia.gov/countries/regions-topics.cfm?fips=scs
3. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/06/us-china-parliament-seas-idUSBREA2512I20140306
4. http://warontherocks.com/2014/02/america-has-no-answer-to-chinas-salami-slicing/#_
5. http://world.time.com/2012/07/24/chinas-newest-city-raises-threat-of-conflict-in-the-south-china-sea/
6. http://www.nationmultimedia.com/opinion/Energy-competition-in-South-China-Sea-A-front-burn-30243078.html
7. http://globalnation.inquirer.net/100159/dnd-confirms-report-on-expulsion-of-ph-vessels-by-chinese-ships
8. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/10/world/asia/in-high-seas-china-moves-unilaterally.html? module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar%2C%7B%221%22%3A%22RI%3A11%22%7D&_r=0
9. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-05/vietnam-says-china-still-harassing-boats-shows-video-of-sinking.html 10. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/16/world/asia/chinese-oil-rig-near-vietnam-to-be-moved.html
11. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-28905504
12. http://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL30946.pdf
13. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/08/28/uk-china-usa-military-idUKKBN0GS2M920140828
14. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-06-27/vietnam-calls-on-cnooc-to-scrap-bid-to-explore-oil-off-coast-1-.html 

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Thailand’s coup – a serious threat to stability in Myanmar and Cambodia

In late May 2014 the Thai military seized power in a widely anticipated coup by the hawks who have been hinting at same for some time now. This is the twelfth coup in Thailand since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932 (BBC, 2014) and the army justified their intervention on this occasion for the need to stabilize the volatile political situation.

Thailand has been in turmoil during recent years and the already tense situation – where two sides kept rallying against or for the government – began to escalate in November 2013 when MPs approved a controversial bill which would help former Prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra avoid prison on corruption charges. The situation worsened in May 2014 when the Constitutional Court removed PM Yingluck Shinawatra from power. (BBC, 2014)

Thaksin Shinawatra & Yingluck Shinawatra
Shortly afterwards, the army stepped in and started clamping down on intellectuals and opposition, limited the freedom of speech and imposed a curfew. Western leaders criticized the coup and are closely watching what impact the situation will have on the South-East Asian region. Of particular interest is the impact on the Kingdom of Cambodia which is struggling with an influx of its citizens from Thailand, and on Myanmar, itself a former military regime. Can these emerging democracies and key players in the “sphere of influence” stand-off between China and the USA in the region, withstand the Thai crisis?

Struggling Thailand

Leader of the Thai coup, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, announced in late June that Thailand will not have free elections until October 2015. The reason why was given as “We want to see an election that will take place under the new constitution… Today, if we go ahead and hold a general election, it will lead to a situation that will return to the old cycle of conflict, violence, corruption by influential groups in politics, terrorism and the use of war weapons.” (BBC, 2014)


General Prayuth Chan-ocha

Thailand is divided internally and its economy has been struggling with slowing growth and outflows of capital (The Irrawaddy, 2014). Prior to the current political unrest, there was a need for Thailand to take action to stay competitive in the Asian market, given the emergence of other countries such as Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines as attractive alternative places to invest. The country, once a symbol of democracy and prosperity in the region, is now in turmoil, its intellectual elite and media live in fear and the political upheavals are impacting Thailand´s neighbors.

Exodus to Cambodia

Cambodia was hit by a huge wave of returnees. Almost 200,000 Cambodian workers in Thailand started moving eastwards once the rumor spread that the Thai junta would clamp down on illegal migrants. This led to a row between the two countries as thousands of desperate Cambodians headed for the border.

Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng blamed the Thai army for the exodus and said it “must be held responsible”. (BBC, 2014) The generals defended themselves and issued a statement saying that only illegals would be targeted. The issue is not helping the already tense relations, given the legacy border issues over the area around the Preah Vihear temple in the Dangrek Mountains which led to riots and armed conflict in 2003.


Cambodian Interior Minister Sar Kheng

The fragile Cambodian democracy and the country’s economic potential are at stake. The return of ex-pat Cambodians may harm the local economy and affect border security in the disputed region.

In addition, Thai intellectuals seeking exile in Cambodia – something unimaginable a few decades ago – and who may plan to organize resistance from there against the junta places Phnom Penh in an “awkward position” (New York Times, 2014).

Economic Windfall for Myanmar

In Myanmar the government is struggling to come to terms with events in Bangkok. Myanmar which only a few years ago was home to a ruthless regime is a delicate balance of democratic aspirations assisted by foreign direct investment by China and the USA in particular in an attempt to nurture and preserve the new political climate. Events in Thailand are familiar to the Burmese in particular dictat’s curtailing the freedom of speech and the regular announcements of names of detained citizens on Thai TV.

And there are fears in Myanmar that the Thai coup will threaten their emerging freedom and destabilize the region. These fears come, interalia, from the National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition party. “I am sad to learn about the coup, it could give the government an idea,” Win Htein, a MP for NLD said (Bangkok Post, 2014). “The lessons in all this for Myanmar are plain to see. … And for whatever reason, we must not let our guards down,“ Burmese Professor Aung Naing Oo teaching in Thailand warned (ibid).


Professor Aung Naing Oo

But others are not that fearful, government MPs are generally condemning the coup saying that Myanmar – as current ASEAN chairman – will “respond soon” and “see how soon the power goes back to people”. Historically, coups in Thailand and Myanmar / Burma are different, in Thailand the army always gave back the power, while in Burma the coup of 1962 meant decades of tyranny.

Win Htein (right)

The Thai coup is likely to lead to Myanmar competing for foreign direct investments previously ear marked for Thailand before the uncertainty. Myanmar has potential in gas and oil development and investors will prefer projects there if Thailand remains unstable – the additional capital investment in addressing the infrastructural challenges in Myanmar may seem more palatable than an all or nothing bet on Thailand not descending into serious civil unrest.

International Response

Criticism of the coup by Western governments and Australia is not helping Bangkok. (The Irrawaddy, 2014). Elsewhere the response has been muted and benign, most Western governments are focused on events in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.  

In Myanmar politicians are not worried about regional instability. “I am more worried about people sabotaging the peace process (between the government and ethnic groups),” Burmese MP Ye Myint told Bangkok Post. (Bangkok Post, 2014)

In Cambodia, the government is taking as diplomatic a stance as it can, without seeming weak, and hoping that the more sinister predictions regarding the Thai military and their designs on the disputed border regions, are avoided

Sentiment in Thailand is mixed but most is negative “I think there will be problems in this country for a generation or two,” a business owner in Bangkok was quoted as saying “I would like to get out of the country safely,“ he added. (New York Times, 2014)

Is this the end game for Thai democracy, a potential spark to ignite a wider Thai / Cambodian conflict to allow the Thai military divert attention from internal issues or a motivator for similar minds in Myanmar to return that nation to a military administration? Or is it just another intermezzo in the decades of peculiar Thai democracy and South East Asian politics in general.
Sources

BBC NEWS. (2014) Thai army promises elections in October 2015. [Online] Available from:
[Accessed: 29th September 2014].

BBC NEWS. (2014) Cambodia ramps up criticism of Thailand´s junta. [Online] Available from: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-27898652
[Accessed: 29th September 2014].

BBC NEWS. (2014) Why is Thailand under military rule? [Online] Available from: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-25149484
[Accessed: 29th September 2014].

BOOT, W. (2014) Thailand´s Coup May Affect Burma´s Oil and Gas Sector. The Irrawaddy [Online] 6th June. Available from: http://www.irrawaddy.org/business/thailands-coup-may-affect-burmas-oil-gas-sector.html [Accessed: 29th September 2014].

CNN (2014) Cambodian migrant workers flee Thailand [Online] Available from: http://edition.cnn.com/2014/06/18/world/cambodia-thailand-migrants-border/index.html
[Accessed: 29th September 2014].

FULLER, T. (2014) In Thailand, growing intolerance for dissent drives many to more authoritarian nations. New York Times. [Online] 6th June. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/07/world/asia/in-thailand-a-growing-intolerance-for-dissent.html?_r=0 [Accessed: 29th September 2014].

VERBROGGEN, Y (2014) Myanmar stunned by coup, and they should know. Bangkok Post. [Online] 1st June. Available from: http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/investigation/412921/myanmar-stunned-by-coup-and-they-should-know [Accessed: 29th September 2014].

The places you’re most likely to get kidnapped



The places you’re most likely to get kidnapped.
Author: Gordon Bottomley 
http://www.vocativ.com, Jan 07, 2014 07:57 EST
Additional reporting by Jan-Albert Hootsen in Mexico City and Jeff Neumann in Beirut.

What’s my motivation?

An overwhelming majority of kidnappings today are motivated by aims that are chiefly financial in nature. Although kidnappers’ motivations can (and do) range from ideological to the more amorous and/or custodial (think Helen of Troy), kidnapping has emerged as a lucrative, reliable stream of income for organizations and individuals (consider the fact that ransom payments in 2012 topped $500 million).

How we know

First, we began by collecting data on global kidnappings incidents by country using a variety of sources, including government and inter-governmental agency data, local, regional and national press and media reports, global incident databases and forums, input from relevant subject matter experts, and (yes) industry-specific reports published by risk advisory firms, tourism groups and insurance companies. 

Next, we filtered the unstructured data using unique keyword strings to sort incidents into buckets based on specific parameters, such as motivation, type and location. This enabled us eventually to focus on the most relevant incidents for international travelers—that is, kidnappings that are motivated solely by financial gain.

Finally, we combined incident information for each country with relevant tourism and travel data, to find the intersection of popular travel destinations that have relatively high kidnap rates.
It’s a growth industry

Kidnapping is booming. To help you to stay safe when you travel, we’ve mapped out the places where you face the greatest risk of getting scooped up by rebels, terrorists or “mainstream” criminals.

There are lots of reasons people avoid high-profile travel destinations—the flights are too long, the hotels are overpriced, the beaches are overrun with German men in skimpy swimwear. But there’s another, sometimes overlooked criteria that you probably won’t find in your copy of Frommer’s or the Rough Guide: The likelihood of getting kidnapped at gunpoint.

Unless you’re the kind of person who heads to the swamps of Nigeria for a little R&R, it’s unlikely you’ve given much thought to the threat of kidnapping when planning your trips. But kidnapping has boomed over the past decade, thanks to the growing socioeconomic divide around the globe and the spread of radical groups. While kidnappers used to target rich locals, and the abductions were largely confined to a handful of countries, these days foreign business executives and tourists are now just as likely to be the victims, and the abductions can happen virtually anywhere. Public policy groups estimate there were more than 100,000 kidnappings around the world last year, including locals and foreigners.

Kidnapping hotspots

To make sense of today’s kidnapping risk overseas, we’ve mapped out the places where you face the greatest danger. This isn’t simply a list of places with the highest kidnapping rates, That directory would include no-brainers like Syria (which has been fighting a bloody civil war for the last three years) and Afghanistan (which has become a haven for Jihadists). We’re assuming you don’t need someone to tell you that those places are somewhat perilous for travelers.
Our list focuses, instead, on countries that are first and foremost popular travel destinations—and that also happen to have a high rate of abductions. There are some surprises on the list: India, for example, might seem out of place among the world’s kidnapping capitals, but the numbers don’t lie.



The official data is skewed

It’s not easy to wrangle data on kidnappings. For one, both governments and kidnapping victims are known to underreport abductions. Also, there are a number of different varieties of kidnapping, and not all countries classify each and every kind as a “kidnapping.” For example, in parts of Asia and Latin America, so-called virtual kidnappings are common—that’s where the bad guys claim falsely that they have abducted someone and demand a ransom. In some countries, these go in the books as “fraud” not “kidnapping.” Another example: “Express kidnappings” where hostages are taken for a day or two at most, just long enough to deplete their bank accounts or max out their credit cards, are sometimes logged as “robberies.”

In pulling together this list, we’ve adjusted for these various quirks and discrepancies to focus on the types of abductions that most often affect tourists and travelers. The countries below are ordered from most kidnapping incidents to least.

Safe travels.

MEXICO


A group of people kidnapped by alleged drug traffickers sit on the 
floor after being rescued by the Mexican Army. (Dario Leon/AFP/Getty Images)

Kidnap rate: Kidnapping isn’t a new threat in Mexico, but it is now endemic. In the last decade, kidnappings have grown 245 percent (and that’s just reported incidents). Last year, almost 1,583 kidnapping cases were reported to Mexican authorities—the highest number since Mexico began tracking kidnapping stats in 1997.

How the kidnaps typically play out: ”Express” and “virtual” varieties that target both locals and foreigners. Last year’s virtual kidnaps included a Spanish indie rock band visiting Mexico City to perform in a music festival and a U.S. citizen participating in an Ironman competition in Cozumel. The kidnappers demanded $380,000 for the band. Both of these incidents were relatively mild. The country’s kidnappers have a reputation for being particularly violent: 935 victims were killed between 1994 and 2008.

What’s fueling the kidnapping: The government clampdown on Mexico’s drug trade has played a role, heightening competition among traffickers and, in some cases, forcing the traffickers to look for other sources of revenue.

The bottom line: The droves of spring-breakers and tequila-drinkers that descend on the country each year are safest holed up in their private resorts, as Mexico has the highest number of kidnappings in the world.

INDIA


A Maoist guards Italian tourist Claudio Colangelo and 
tour operator Paolo Bosusco, both of whom were kidnapped, 
in Orissa state, India. (AFP/Getty Images)

Kidnap rate: Kidnapping and abduction rates have grown faster than any other crime over the past 60 years in India.

How the kidnaps typically play out: Several highly publicized abductions and rape incidents involving tourists last year made headlines. One involved a 30-year-old American tourist who was offered a ride back to her hotel by three men. Instead, the men took her to a secluded spot and raped her.

What’s fueling the kidnapping: Poverty appears to be the single biggest driver. The country’s poorer states, like Bihar, regularly account for a large share of kidnaps. Several larger criminal organizations and rebel groups also use abductions to augment their revenue streams.

The bottom line: While visitors to India’s postcard-worthy wonders like the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri can be reasonably confident of their safety, both of these UNESCO heritage sites are in Uttar Pradesh, one of the Indian states with the highest number of abductions.

VENEZUELA


Angel Falls at Canaima National Park (Reuters/Jorge Silva)

Kidnap rate: There were more than 1,000 kidnap-for-ransom incidents last year.

How the kidnaps typically play out: Caracas, the capital, has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. One of the more recent and harrowing kidnapping incidents took place in July 2012. A Portuguese man was taken from a highway service station and held captive in an underground bunker beneath a rural residence in Carabobo state for nearly a year. He was rescued in June 2013 (the perpetrators did not receive the $6.5 million ransom they had demanded).

What’s fueling the kidnapping: Lack of economic opportunities, especially in Caracas, create an environment conducive to kidnappings. In some of the city’s poorest areas, police are unable to maintain order, and criminals have license to do as they please.

The bottom line: Caracas is the country’s hotbed of kidnapping activity, and there are fewer risks for foreigners traveling outside the capital. But the key takeaway is this: Travel to Venezuela is not for the risk-averse, as it remains one of the most kidnapping-prone places in the world.

LEBANON


Lebanese gunmen from the al-Muqdad, a large Lebanese Shiite Muslim clan, 
say they have kidnapped at least 20 Syrians to try to secure the release of a family member. (AFP/Getty Images)

Kidnap rate: Some estimates suggest kidnapping rates rose as much as 94 percent in 2013. Our analysis showed at least 39 kidnappings last year, though given the current porous, shifting nature of the Syrian border, that number is almost certainly much higher.

How the kidnaps typically play out: While the majority of abductees seem to be locals, aid workers, journalists and foreign tourists have been hit, too. Seven Estonian cyclists were abducted in March 2011 in an attack that Lebanese officials described as planned and coordinated. The cyclists were freed four months later. The Estonians later described their abductors as eight Islamic extremists armed with Kalashnikovs who had pressured them to convert to Islam.

What’s fueling the kidnapping: Lebanon spent much of the ’70s and ’80s beset by a brutal civil war, and tit-for-tat kidnappings were a near-daily occurrence. The end of hostilities in the ’90s ushered in a period of relative stability, and tourism flourished. But the civil war in neighboring Syria has plunged Lebanon back into chaos.

The bottom line: As long as Syria remains mired in conflict, kidnappings in Lebanon are unlikely to subside. For the moment, Westerners have remained largely outside the crosshairs of kidnappers. But, as one journalist warned back in September, Americans and Europeans could easily become the next victims, especially if local groups take issue with their countries’ foreign policies.

THE PHILIPPINES


El Nido is bordered by the Linapacan Strait in the north, the Sulu Sea in 
the east, and the South China Sea in the west. (Getty Images/Jonas Gratzer)

Kidnap rate: Kidnappings in the Philippines nearly doubled in 2013—and there were more than 20 kidnap-for-ransom cases alone, based on media reports and government figures.

How the kidnaps typically play out: Pirates trolling the Sulu Sea, which separates the Philippines islands from Malaysia’s Sabah region, have been the scene of numerous abductions over the last decade. Just last November, armed gunman took a Taiwanese tourist from an island just off Sabah after killing her husband. The tourist was rescued a month later. Officials have not said if a ransom was paid.

What’s fueling the kidnapping: Criminals and separatist groups that operate in the region treat foreigners, particularly wealthy visitors from China, as human ATMs. Abu Sayyaf, a prominent militant Islamist group with links to Al Qaeda, has been responsible for numerous tourist abductions over the past few years. Some figures suggest the group has collected over $35 million in ransom fees.

The bottom line: Unfortunately, the coastal and island resorts in the southern Philippines that are particularly popular among vacationers are also frequented by kidnappers and pirates. The good news? The vast majority of abductees have been released unharmed. (Of course, that’s assuming you can foot the bill.)

COLOMBIA


Leticia in Colombia, a gateway town to the Amazon River (Wikipedia/Pedro Szekely)

Kidnap rate: The kidnap threat in Colombia has improved significantly in the last 10 years, thanks to peace talks between the government and the rebels, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), with just 219 incidents reported last year, according to Colombia’s Defense Ministry.

How the kidnaps typically play out: A majority of the kidnappings in tourist areas are “express,” usually lasting less than 48 hours. During these “quicknappings,” armed gangs force their victims to withdraw funds from one or more ATMs, sometimes using other proxies, such as cab drivers, to facilitate the kidnap.

What’s fueling the kidnaps: Economics. FARC, which has a history of kidnappings to raise money, last year called a stop to that practice as part of the peace process. It’s not uncommon for criminals to claim kidnappings or other actions in the FARC’s name.

The bottom line: While Colombia is no longer teeming with criminal gangs and narco-traffickers the way it was five years ago, it is still a volatile place. Risks remain for foreigners, more so for employees of international oil and mining companies than sightseers and vacation travelers.

BRAZIL


The statue of “Christ the Redeemer” atop Corcovado mountain in Rio. (Reuters/Bruno Domingos)

Kidnap rate: Brazil officially recorded 319 kidnapping cases in 2011. But because express kidnaps—the most common type of extortion scheme in Brazil—are not included in official kidnapping stats, our analysis suggests that well over 6,000 kidnappings take place each year.

How the kidnaps typically play out: Last year, an American tourist was kidnapped, raped and robbed after the minibus she was traveling on was hijacked by three men outside of Rio. The woman was traveling with her French boyfriend, who was also abducted, beaten and bound, and forced to watch the ordeal. The three men left with the passengers’ credit cards, which were reportedly used in multiple locations over the next few hours.

What’s fueling the kidnaps: Kidnappings in Brazil are fueled partly by organized crime, though many of the gangs are largely made up of untrained thugs looking for a quick financial gain. As a result, victims are often selected from Brazil’s lower classes because they can be targeted with little preparation.

The bottom line: Improvements in security in preparation for the World Cup in 2014 and Summer Olympics in 2016 should slow abduction rates in Brazil, which is far safer than most of its neighbors when it comes to kidnapping risk.

KENYA


People taking cover behind a bar inside a shopping mall following an 
attack by masked gunmen in Nairobi in September that killed at least 67 people. 
(AFP/Getty Images/Nichole Sobecki)

Kidnap rate: In 2013, there were about 74 kidnapping-for-ransom incidents in Kenya.

How the kidnaps typically play out: A British woman was kidnapped and her husband murdered in 2011 at a coastal resort near the Kenya-Somali border. Six months later, a French national was snatched from a private home in another heavily trafficked tourist hotspot nearby. She died in captivity in Somalia.

What’s fueling the kidnaps: Drastic socio-economic conditions and general lawlessness in Somalia are boosting kidnappings in Kenya, predominately along their shared border. These conditions serve as a breeding ground for extremists, like Al Shabaab, as well as run-of-the-mill criminals.

The bottom line: While Kenya’s wildlife safaris are a powerful draw for travelers, the beaches and resorts on the country’s north coast play an increasingly vital role in attracting tourists, but that’s also where the kidnapping risk is greatest. Travelers to other parts of Kenya should take precautions, too, given the recent growth of certain terrorist groups in the region. In September, Al Shabaab stormed a shopping mall in Nairobi. Though unconfirmed, Al Shabaab is thought to be behind some of the more recent kidnappings, too.

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Author: Gordon Bottomley; Contact: gbottomley@vocativ.com / @gfbiv. Reproduced by TMG CORPORATE SERVICES / THE MEDIATOR GROUP with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permissionOriginal article can be found at: http://www.vocativ.com/01-2014/places-youre-likely-get-kidnapped-vacation/ 

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