Kidnappings around the globe reached a record high in 1999, according to Hiscox's official kidnap monitor.

Columbia achieved the notoriety of topping the kidnapping league table, accounting for 55% of the world total, 972 out of 1,789.

Kidnappings in other South American countries – including Mexico 402, Brazil 51, Ecuador 12, and Venezuela 12 – made the region a hostage hot-spot for the ninth year running.

The 70% rise in worldwide ransom demands in the past decade has been fuelled by a potent mix of political unrest, lawlessness and poverty, Lloyd's group Hiscox finds.

This might account for the large jump in the number of kidnappings in the former Soviet Union, which has risen 84% since 1998, to 105 last year. Other trouble spots are Nigeria where kidnappings increased from 57 to 105 last year, a rise of 84%, and South Africa which recorded 10 ransom demands in 1999, compared to only one during the previous decade.

However, these figures might be even higher because, Hiscox says, many incidents, particularly in developing countries, often go unreported.

However 1999's rise of 6% is not as sharp as previous years, indicating business travellers are more aware of the danger and therefore better prepared.

Rob Davies, senior special risks underwriter at Hiscox insurance group, said: "The problem remains that in some parts of the world kidnapping for ransom has become an accepted part of life, a problem some authorities are struggling to irradicate.

"We advise anyone travelling to or working in an at risk country to exercise due caution."