ADF says Africa focus would help in a hostage crisis
Four-day siege … the captives in Algeria. Photo: AP
THE Chief of the Defence Force, David Hurley, says there needs to be a clearer picture of where Australians are working on African mining projects, so the government can respond quickly to any future hostage crisis such as the recent attack in Algeria.
Speaking at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, General Hurley said he had been studying Australians' presence in the continent - even before the latest crisis - and would discuss with the government how Australians could be kept safe.
''If you look at Australia's mining investments, for example, or the extraction industries in Africa at the present time, there are roughly 4000 to 5000 Australians registered in Africa in that industry … so we have significant commercial and industry extraction interests there,'' he told a lunch organised by the institute.
Hostages ... The Algerian army carried out a dramatic final assault to end a siege by Islamic militants at a desert gas plant on Saturday, killing 11 al Qaeda-linked gunmen after they took the lives of seven more foreign hostages, the state news agency said. Photo: Reuters
''We are just looking at what Australia's interests are in the region and we'll have the conversation with government about how that is to be managed.''
At least 48 hostages are thought to have died in the four-day siege by Islamist militants at the gas plant in Algeria - none of them Australians. The crisis ended when Algerian special forces stormed the facility.
The executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Peter Jennings, said the ADF was unlikely to be able to launch rescue operations if Australians were taken as hostages.
But it could enhance its relationships with foreign forces and security agencies so, if Australians were ensnared, the Defence Force could quickly make contact with the decision-makers.
''One of the most important things is just being able to call people up,'' Mr Jennings said.
A study produced last month by the international consultancy Frost & Sullivan concluded that the private security industry for the oil and gas sector would grow from $18.3 billion in 2011 to $31.3 billion by 2021.
Speaking at the same lunch, the British Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, strongly defended the Algerian government against claims it had been heavy-handed in its approach to the siege.
''The purpose behind the way they dealt with it is to send a very clear message to jihadists worldwide: don't dangle and tangle with us. We will deal with it very robustly,'' he said.
Nathan Mullins, an Australian security adviser who works in Africa, said the isolation of oil and gas installations could make them dangerous.
''They are far out in the middle of nowhere and the government doesn't provide security infrastructure out there,'' he said.
Mr Mullins said individuals who did choose to work in such situations had to be aware of the risks.
''The price of human life is very different in those countries and I think you've got to accept that if you want to work in those countries.
''You've got to really think about making your own decisions and not have the government or the organisation you work for take those decisions for you, because you're really not sure what you're getting into.''
Private security firm AKE, which operates in Africa, said it had issued a advisory to its clients last week following the Algeria attack.
But Libyan-based analysts at the firm told Fairfax Media that despite the high-profile nature of the terrorist attack at In Amenas, such incidents remain "relatively infrequent incidents".
"Perception of risk plays a notable role. Terrorist attacks and kidnappings are high impact events which generate a lot of anxiety amongst workers in the sector, not least because they are often devastating, quick and well documented in the media," the analysts said.
"However ... road traffic and industrial accidents are far more likely to harm workers in North Africa."
The analysts said one of the key challenges facing such workers in the North Africa region is the lack of proper medical facilities when such emergencies occurred.