Published: June 27, 2011

The security and risk management consultancy Pilgrims was a reassuring presence for British business travelers, expatriates and families as civil war broke out in Libya earlier this year. Many of the hundreds of British citizens working or living in the country before the outbreak of war turned to the company as rebel forces challenged the 42 year rule of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Businesses were confronted with life-changing decisions and highly dangerous situations as the revolution broke out. They needed to be able to gauge the seriousness of the political situation and judge at what point it was appropriate to leave the country. Pilgrims used its extensive expertise and network of local contacts to help four global media groups and one major IT multinational either evacuate or move safely around the country, and assisted several other multinationals with their decision-making, planning, and implementation, either at global or local headquarters level.

“The decision to evacuate was difficult for companies with Libyan operations in the early days, given the human risks involved and the potential loss of revenue,” says Pilgrims’ senior operations manager, Richard Lovell-Knight. “As the situation worsened, the decision to leave became unavoidable: foreign and local staff were increasingly at risk and revenue was stopping anyway.”

Companies needed to choose the safest and most direct route out of the country for their employees. Pilgrims’ Operations Manager, Gillan Torbitt-McNay, a former Captain in the British Army, assisted by Gabriel Carter, Operations Manager (Consultancy) and former Crisis Management Analyst at Goldman Sachs, planned and ran one of the key evacuations. Gillan’s experience with 1 Scots in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Former Republic of Yugoslavia meant he was well aware of the challenges and dangers clients might face.

Aided by Pilgrims’ headquarters team and ground teams comprising former UK, New Zealand and Australian Special Forces, Pilgrims formulated a plan to evacuate professionals from their work places using a specially chartered plane with permission to land in the Tunisian city of Djerba.

“Working with local security companies and people with local knowledge and medical expertise we took the evacuees on a road move from Tripoli to the border,” says Torbitt-McNay. “But road blocks would appear where none had been an hour earlier, while the affiliations of the people manning them were hard to assess. Border crossings, especially in and out of Tunisia, opened and closed on a whim. Consequently the security situation required a rethink to the plan in mid operation. We returned the clients to the capital and put them onto one of the first US government evacuation flights out of Tripoli airport.”

At the same time, Pilgrims was escorting journalists and film crews from a number of different networks in and out of the country, ensuring they were able to broadcast in relative safety. “Their role is to go to the places others are trying to escape from, which is always a logistical and security challenge,” says Torbitt-McNay.

“In the current Middle East crisis we have evacuated clients from Bahrain and have been setting up evacuation plans in nearly every affected country,” says Lovell-Knight. “Gabriel Carter was deployed to various Middle East countries over the period, and as well as setting up emergency plans for clients, also ran the evacuation for client’s staff and families out of Bahrain. Likewise, our team of consultants, both ex Special Forces and experienced crisis management consultants, were deployed around the region. That service continues and is not expected to reduce. Our people on the ground and at global headquarters, including our Intelligence staff that are providing constant updates and analysis, have responded with calm assurance and dedication to the mission, while dealing with some highly volatile situations where sudden change is normal.”