At their last meeting, Stonehaven and District Probus Club members heard a fascinating and dramatic tale of the secretive machinations that go on when a kidnapping for ransom occurs.
Stonehaven man, Peter Nicholson, told the true story of one such event in Ecuador in October 2000 and his own involvement in it.
When a group of heavily armed terrorists broke into an oil exploration camp in the Ecuadorian jungle and seized 10 Western hostages before flying them off into the jungle in a helicopter, Peter, as head of Human Resources for a well known oil company (which had one employee taken), was drafted into an incident team formed from the four companies affected. There was no contact from the kidnappers for two weeks and then the initial contacts were only abuse and threats - all the team’s questions were ignored. Then came the first demand - $80 million! This was judged by the professional negotiator hired by the incident team to be outrageously high - it would upset the ‘kidnap market’ - and only two of the four companies had hostage insurance so they had to be subsidised by the others. The response was a counter offer of $500,000. Two months passed with little contact. Then, the body of one of the American hostages was found dumped in the jungle. He had been shot in the back. Negotiations were resumed in earnest. An offer of $7.7 million was made. This appeared to be the maximum because the two uninsured companies were now facing bankruptcy. However the final sum offered and agreed was $13 million and this had to be paid in untraceable, used notes and in shrink-wrapped bundles. The remaining hostages were finally released in January 2001 and reunited with their families. They were dirty, tired but unharmed. A significant part of the ransom was subsequently recovered but Peter and his colleagues had found the whole three months distressing and exhausting and he listed some of the moral dilemmas they and others in a similar situation have to face. Is it ever OK to pay a ransom? How much is a human life worth? Should you take the risk of attempting the rescue? After a lively question and answer session the vote of thanks was proposed by Lachlan MacBean.