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Somali Pirate Attacks Boost Shipping Insurance Rates

Posted on 26 Jun 2009

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The cost of piracy insurance has risen by as much as 100 percent after attacks on ships off the Horn of Africa surged, insurance broker Marsh said.

Attacks on large commercial vessels such as the Sirius Star, a Saudi oil supertanker that was released in January, almost two months after it was hijacked with a cargo of 2 million barrels of oil, have spurred premiums and demand for coverage.

Piracy “is a pretty challenging piece of risk to underwrite,” said Marcus Baker, head of marine insurance at Marsh in London. “These pirates are attacking up to 700 miles off shore.”

The European Union extended its anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia by a year last week, warning of a “serious threat” to ships in the sea corridor that handles a tenth of the world’s trade. Armed gangs have seized at least 29 merchant ships this year and carried out 114 attacks, more than in all of 2008, according to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“We had ships that were quoted at 0.05 percent on their value for a trip through the Gulf of Aden in the middle of last year, and we have had other ships recently quoted at 0.1 percent for the same trip,” Baker said.

Insurance prices depend on the type of ship, as the faster ships with the bigger freeboard are more challenging to get on, Baker said. “Anything over 14 or 15 knots tends to be fast as far as the pirates are concerned,” he said. Underwriting is agreed case by case, he said.

Baloise Holding AG, Switzerland’s third-largest insurer, has seen increased demand from Swiss clients for piracy coverage after attacks raised awareness of the risks.

“Though we cannot speak of a revolution in the insurance market yet, there is much more discussion between insurers and shipping companies,” Reto Frei, head of marine cargo insurance at Baloise, said in a telephone interview from Basel on June 12.

Pirate attacks off Somalia almost doubled to 102 in the first quarter from 53 a year earlier, according to a study published June 22 by the corporate and specialty insurance unit of Allianz SE. Owners of tankers and container ships pay as much as $40,000 per passage for security guards on vessels, Arild Nodland, chief executive officer of Bergen Risk Solutions, in Bergen, Norway, said earlier this month.

There is a trend toward higher costs for protection of shipping, Frei said. Modern piracy “is all about pirates demanding ransom and not much happens to the crew or the cargo,” Frei said. “The time of pirates who attacked ships to steal goods or even pretty women is over.”