Kidnapping: New high-tech chips can track distress victims

By Mohammed Sidi Ali

Kidnapping for ransom is becoming something of a growth business in Nigeria. It is probably second to oil bunkering. Recent statistics shows that it is on the ascendancy. According to the Daily Independent Newspaper of August 21, 2013, Nigeria accounted for 26 percent of kidnap for ransom globally in the first half of 2013 as released by NYA International, a specialist crisis prevention and response consultancy firm. It estimates that thousands of kidnappings take place annually in Nigeria – the majority unreported. In December 2009, the then Nigeria Police Affairs Minister disclosed that between January 2008 and June 2009, 512 cases of kidnappings were recorded. The report also added that between July 2008 and July 2009, ₦600 million was lost to kidnappers.

The Associated Press in its report of August 2008, revealed that more than 200 foreigners have been kidnapped in two years of heightened violence across Nigeria’s restive South. The victims are normally released unharmed after a ransom is paid, although several have been killed during botched seizures or rescue attempts. Victims are often maimed, raped and manhandled in such a manner that the stigma remains almost perpetually. In an article published by the Street Journal of April 9, 2013, not less than 1,500 people are kidnapped on an annual basis in the country.

Recent statistics from the African Insurance Organization (AIO) says Nigeria is now the kidnap for ransom capital of the world. The AIO said Nigeria accounted for 25% of global kidnappings in the last one year. The revelation was made in Balaclava, Mauritus, at the 18th African reinsurance Forum which was well attended by delegates from across Africa and other countries. The report said, the number of kidnaps for ransom in the African continent continued to increase. In the first half of 2012, the African proportion of the global total has increased from 23 per cent in 2011 to 34 per cent. But it concluded that Nigeria is now the kidnap for ransom capital of the world, accounting for a quarter of globally reported cases. This frightening statistics goes on and on.

There have been many suggestions on how to curb this menace. Some say ransom should be used as a bait to track the kidnappers. The phone number used for negotiation should be traced to know the general area the kidnappers are operating from. The ransom money should be marked and should be in small denominations to make it difficult to spend and easily traceable. The problem is that anyone can make a phone call and then move away from the area. Also, once the ransom money goes into circulation, it increases the number of suspects the law enforcement agents have to arrest thereby complicating issues. Pinpointing the exact location of the kidnappers and their victim is the key to curbing this menace. This is where the PLB comes in.

What is a personal locator beacon (PLB)?

A PLB is a portable, miniature cell-phone sized beacon that is designed to be carried by individuals who go into remote or rugged areas such as hikers, campers and mountaineers. It operates on a 406MHz satellite signal with a homing frequency of 121.5MHz.  It usually contains a built-in GPS and light strobe and is activated manually. It is strapped to the arm or any other convenient part of the body and is fairly small enough to be concealed from attackers. PLBs have a battery life of up to 30 hours after activation.

PLBs can help in the fight against Kidnapping

The PLB makes up a part of the system to detect and report incidents (distresses, kidnappings, abductions, robbery attacks, accidents, etc). It comprises the PLB carried by an individual that is activated during a distress situation. It transmits a powerful signal at 406MHz, an internationally recognized distress frequency monitored in Nigeria by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) through its Mission Control Center (MCC) via a network of satellites and Local User Terminals (LUTs) provided by the COSPAS-SARSAT Program where the incidents are monitored. The PLB upon activation will automatically communicate its location and the user’s data in real-time to the agency. It could also be modified to have an imaging system for capturing images of the incidents.

The relevant authorities such as the nearest Police Posts or Army Formations are then immediately mobilized for the Search & Rescue (SAR) process. Every PLB must be registered and the data sent to the Nigeria Mission Control Center (NIMCC) for uploading into the International Beacon Registration Database (IBRD). It is only through proper registration that the identity of the victim, contact persons and other vital information can aid the SAR operation. For instance, Search & Rescue will confirm from the contact person that the victim was expected to be in the area of the incidence during that time. This will give more confidence and direction to the SAR team. The PLB works independently of computer and telephone networks. It communicates directly with dedicated satellites provided for the singular purpose of Search & Rescue. Hence, there is no risk of loss of communication. The unit is waterproof and can even float in the ocean. It is however highly recommended that the battery be replaced every 5 years by a professional.


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