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Of murders, disappearances, mishaps and insurance

October 6, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

More Australians went missing, got arrested or died on their overseas travels during the most recent financial year than the year before – and 49 were murdered – but despite that, Aussies overall remain remarkably uninformed when it comes to travel insurance, according to a Government report released yesterday.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) noted in its Consular State of Play 2016-17 report that it had supported the families of 1615 Australians who had died overseas in 2016-17, an increase of 9% over the previous year. Most deaths resulted from illness or natural causes. DFAT speculates that reasons may include an ageing population travelling more and retiring overseas.

DFAT issued the figures and included a plea on travel insurance.

Detectives in Oklahoma

Causes of death included:

  • Illness: 446 – down 3 cases from 449 last year
  • Natural causes: 340 – up 50 cases from 282 last year
  • Accidents: 211 – down 5 cases from 216 last year
  • Suicide: 68 – down 4 cases from 72 last year
  • Murder: 49 – up 2 cases from 47 last year

Main countries were: 

  • Thailand: 203 – down 1%
  • Philippines: 126 – up 2%
  • Indonesia: 107 – up 2%
  • USA: 99 – up 25%
  • Vietnam: 87 – up 13%

DFAT helped 1641 Australians who were arrested in 2016-17, That was an increase of nearly 6% over the 1551 who found themselves in that position in 2015-16.

Arrest and detention

Immigration detention – where Australians are denied entry to a country or breach  visa conditions – accounted for 404 of the 1641 cases, an increase of over 14% from 2015-16.

  • USA: 285 – up 9% – 116 were immigration-related (up 5%) and 169 were law enforcement-related (up 11%)
  • China (mainland): 101 – up 10% – Mostly law enforcement-related (92, up 19%)
  • UAE: 104 – up 4% – In relation to immigration detention (28 immigration cases, up 27%). Cases involving law enforcement arrests were slightly down (by 3%, at 76 cases).
  • Thailand: 100 – down 7% – In relation to immigration detention (18, down 5%), but third for law enforcement-related cases (82, down 7%)
  • Philippines: 68 – down 9% – Mostly law-enforcement related (62, down 2%)


In 2016-17, DFAT managed 370 cases involving Australians serving a sentence of imprisonment. That’s a slight decrease from the previous year (down 5.4%, or 21 fewer cases) but over the longer term (five years) it represents a slight increase (up 8% or 27 more cases).

The highest concentration of Australians imprisoned abroad were in the following countries:

  • USA: 52 – Down 1 from 2015-16. Almost half of the cases were sex-offenders.
  • China (mainland): 50 – Down 11 from 2015-16. Most of the cases were fraud or drugs-related.
  • Vietnam: 34 – No change from 2015-16. Almost all cases were drugs-related.
  • Thailand: 26 – Up 1 from 2015-16. Most of the cases were drugs-related.
  • New Zealand: 25 – No change from 2015-16. Cases included sex assault, drugs-related and theft.

In 2016-17, DFAT provided assistance in 1851 cases to trace the whereabouts of Australians potentially caught up in international emergencies.

“These emergencies included the attempted coup in Turkey, deterioration of security situation in South Sudan and the terrorist attack in Nice, all in July 2016, and the terrorist attack in London in June 2017,” DFAT stated.

“This number of cases represented a steep decline from 2015-16, when five international emergencies (including the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and Tropical Cyclone Winston in February 2016) generated 5003 ‘whereabouts cases’.

“In contrast, we experienced a significant increase of routine whereabouts inquiries in 2016-17 (695, a 20% increase on 2015-16, with 579 inquiries).

“As one would expect, there is a strong correlation between location for such inquiries and the most popular destinations for Australian travellers.”

Which countries had the most missing persons cases?

  • Thailand: 74 – up 76% with 42 – 5th most popular destination
  • USA: 59 – up 26% with 47 – 3rd most popular destination
  • Indonesia: 43 – up 8% with 40 – 2nd most popular destination
  • China (mainland): 35 – down 52% with 23 – 6th most popular destination
  • Philippines: 28 – down 18% with 34 – 14th most popular destination 


Noting all the hazards above, sorting out comprehensive travel insurance should be one of the first tasks on a traveller’s pre-departure check-list. DFAT agrees, and it notes that the most recent Survey of Australian Travel Insurance Behaviour (conducted this year) suggests that take-up of travel insurance remains very high (over 90%).

Travellers visiting family, friends or a familiar country have lower rates of travel insurance, but still well over 80% are insured.

Major areas of ignorance remain, however. DFAT said the survey found:

  • 87% of travellers are uncertain about what countries their travel insurance covers. Some insurers cover travel to Bali under their Asia Pacific policy, but not the rest of Indonesia – insurance may not cover countries if there is a travel warning.
  • 87% of travellers are uncertain about coverage while riding a motorcycle overseas. Most policies will not cover travellers if they don’t have a valid motorcycle licence, or are not wearing a helmet – some mopeds can also be considered motorcycles (depending on the engine size).
  • 82% of travellers are uncertain about coverage of mental health conditions. Many insurance policies exclude mental health conditions.
  • 70% of travellers are uncertain about claims for an incident in which alcohol or drug-use was involved. Insurers simply won’t pay for costs arising from incidents where the traveller is under the influence of alcohol or a drug (except where taken on the advice of a doctor).

Written by Peter Needham

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