“We must be seen to be co-operating with the authorities at all times”

As this article went to press, there were 680 people held at gunpoint in the Gulf of Aden: the crews of 30 merchant ships hijacked by Somali pirates. It may be weeks or even months before their ransom is negotiated, and they know there is little hope of rescue. For the 20,000 ships that sail the Gulf of Aden every year, kidnap by Somali pirates is a constant and growing threat. The world’s navies do have a presence here, but there are only around 40 warships attempting to patrol an area of ocean one-and-a-half times the size of Europe. To stem its heavy losses, the insurance industry is attempting to establish what has been billed as a “private navy” to guard commercial shipping – unprecedented, controverisal and extremely complex under international and maritime law, as I found out in this article for Insurance Times.

Insuring Brazil

Everyone seems to be excited about Brazil, and where there’s economic growth, there’s more to insure. According to speakers at an ACE Group client briefing at Lloyd’s, which I covered for Strategic Risk magazine earlier this month, massive government investment and a fast-maturing insurance industry mean great opportunities for foreign companies. The Brazilian insurance industry almost quadrupled in value over the last 10 years to reach US$49.65m in 2009, with even more staggering growth of 409% in the life and pensions sector. Audience members were worried about state intervention in business following the election of  former Marxist guerrilla Dilma Rousseff as the country’s first female president. But Rear Admiral Chris Parry, a strategic forecasting specialist, reassured them: “The Brazilian government knows it’s got to show a level of fiscal responsibility and political predictability, or it will be lumped in with the other South American countries…You won’t see nationalisation, but you may see the odd demonstration of state power to show they can do something if the electorate wants them to.” He also encouraged them to look elsewhere in South America – Costa Rica and Chile are both good bets apparently.

Why do we put up with this?

If ranting about public transport were a sport, I would be at least semi-professional. So I was overjoyed when Building asked me to contribute to its public spending campaign with a rather polemical article on how rubbish Britain’s railways are and why we can’t afford to let them get any worse. Did you know Wales is the only country in the EU to have no electrified track apart from Albania?

How many Turkish architects can you name?

If the pub quiz at my local ever introduces a round on the world’s largest architecture firms, I will definitely be taking home the beer glass of £1s. This month, I edited BD magazine’s World Architecture 2010, the definitive annual survey with profiles of every single one of the top 100 firms, wherever they may lurk. And where they will mainly be lurking in future is China. There’s an enormous amount of data contained in the supplement, but one consistent theme throughout – the money is headed East, the dominance of the US and Europe is in decline, and when the property market recovers from recession, it’s not going to look anything like it did before.

Digital editions of things I’ve edited

I manage all the content for Building‘s contract publishing supplements which, by the magic of the web, are now available as digital editions. Here you can have a virtual flick through a recent eight-pager for ICI – as it’s about paint, it was a good excuse to have fun with a very lairy colour scheme. And today we published a 32-page magazine for the government’s waste quango, WRAP. But this one is probably my favourite, for Waitrose earlier this year, which was rather more successful than my shortlived stint on their checkouts in 1994.

I’ve also edited quite a few editorial supplements – like this one on the retail sector in November 2007, this careers guide with a sustained “Choose Your Own Adventure” theme (complete with “If you decide to leap the ravine, turn to page 5” links) and this one, focusing on construction in the Gulf states – a must if you like pictures of very tall buildings…

Not-so-deserted desert city

Post-bust press coverage of Dubai conjured up poetic images of deserted half-built towers and tumbleweed blowing down the Sheikh Zayed Road. But what about all those construction people who moved there? They can’t all have abandoned their 4x4s at the airport and come home. I tracked them down and discovered that not only has expat life gone on, it’s considerably less blighted by traffic jams…

Fishburn Hedges makes a difference

In his brilliant book on modern journalism, Nick Davies demonstrates how PR firms manage to get spurious stories reported around the globe as no one has the time to check them out. I found a case of flat earth news in action when Insurance Times asked me to write this article on the apparent threat of burglars using social networking sites to plan their robberies. Insurer Legal & General had released a report co-authored with a celebrity “burglar” which had been covered by national newspapers and websites around the world. But despite the fact that Legal & General’s director of underwriting had been quoted widely discussing charging householders with teenagers more for their insurance, he couldn’t provide any evidence of this actually happening. Neither could the celebrity burglar, a veteran of numerous PR campaigns since he went straight 20 years ago. (What exactly are the CPD requirements for burglars?) And neither were any of the police forces I contacted or the Home Office aware of it either. It turns out the whole thing was the idea of Legal & General’s PR company, Fishburn Hedges.