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The Marine Insurance Markets in 2003

2003 a better year for marine insurance
2004 a critical year
 


Hull and machinery
A sector still fragile
Europe
The Cargo market
War risks
The P&I Clubs
2004: a critical year


Luckily only a few major marine disasters occurred in 2003. Some companies have voluntarily or not left the marine insurance market but the underwriting capacity has been maintained. Movements in rates varied according to the different specific sectors of the marine market. On the other hand, risk exposure increased especially in value. 
 

Hull and machinery: rate hikes continued

In our report on the marine insurance for the year 2002, we mentioned that the market had firmed up, namely there was a follow-up of rate increases and a more selective assessment of risks. This trend continued during the first half of 2003, but the premium increases were far more moderate in the second half and at the beginning of 2004. 

Fleets which showed good technical performances at the beginning of 2003 met with increases of about 10 % on their hull and machinery policies, but sometimes as much as 25 to 50 % for some whose results showed a loss ratio in excess of 100 %, or alternatively for fleets which were terminating a long term contract and for which rates had been contractually limited during the firming up of the market since 2000. 

To the surprise of most marine insurance players, the revisions applied during the second half of 2003 were much more restrained, with the 'good' clients often obtaining less than 5 % increases, and underperforming ones being renewed at about 25 % over last done. 

Overall the performance of marine insurers improved thanks to the rise in rates, cost cutting, re-insurance costs remaining relatively stable, a stricter underwriting policy and an absence of major disasters as experienced in the last quarter of 2002. In the international market, the number of companies and underwriters is far fewer than 10 years ago. The capacity is divided out differently between companies with some subscribing a higher proportion of the risks, whilst others are far more sensitive and circumspect, which naturally produces different underwriting results and policies amongst companies. 

Despite an improvement in profits in 2003, the losses on the previous exercises did not allow some players to take full advantage of the improvement in premium rates and claims-record of the current exercise. The higher rates have not compensated the chronic under-charging of the last 6 years and many insurers have doubtless under-estimated the necessary reserves for covering the commitments taken during the previous years. 

These elements have without any doubt weakened the impact of the higher rates on results.
  

A sector still fragile

The weak recovery of the financial markets since December 2002 has affected the level of endowments for provisions against fundamental depreciation, with repercussions on the balance sheet and net profits of insurers. 

In 2003 the rating agencies gave a fairly general marking down on the financial standing of insurance companies.  

The reasons for these re-evaluations were not exclusively found in the marine sector, but also in the other segments of the insurance market. 

Standard & Poor's lowered the rating of 207 insurers and re-insurers in the course of 2003, namely 28 % more than in the previous exercise. This trend is symptomatic of the extent of the declining confidence in the solvency, which is affecting the majority of actors now since eighteen months. 

The need for technical returns is a criterion for the whole profession, as it is now no longer possible to fall back on the financial profits to subsidise as a general rule the technical deficits - which is a practice carried out in most European markets during the second half of the 90's. 

In practice, it should be realised that it is as much the impressive increase in freight rates (mainly in bulk and oil seaborne trade) as the important depreciation of the dollar in relation to the euro, which has led to a significant increase in the insured value of ships (mostly insured in dollars). Capital which is necessary to insure these ships is therefore considerably higher, but only results in very small increases in the insurance premiums. The effect of any total losses would therefore have a bigger negative impact on marine insurers.
 

Europe: a market leader and in competition with the developing markets

Marine insurance has remained an 'euro-centric' industry as 60 % of world business is underwritten in Europe, 22 % in Asia, 14 % in North America, and 4 % in the rest of the world. 

France (1) is number two world-wide in hulls underwriting and acts as an alternative and competitor to the London and Norwegian markets, who hold the predominant positions as leaders in the coverage of the largest international owner's fleets. The French marine insurance market is dominated by AXA Corporate Solutions and AMA (Allianz Marine & Aviation), with Groupama Transport completing the trio.

(1) Japan is in second place world-wide in terms of marine premium income, but it does not play a predominant role in the global scene, as the Japanese insurance companies are above all concentrated on the national shipyards and owners. Nonetheless they have recently shown a growing interest in the European fleet.

South Korea (Samsung Fire & Marine, Korean Re), like Japan, has introduced a change in policy in 2003 in proposing terms, which are often very competitive to certain European owners, especially Greek. 

A close watch should be kept over the viability of Asian companies in their expansionist drive, bearing in mind their last attempts at international underwriting in the 80's ended up in failure.
 

The Cargo market

The Cargo market is customarily more local than Hull, with insurers throughout the world offering coverage to domestic clients either as a stand-alone Marine product or as an additional service line of business to industrial clients.  

In the current market, transparency is a key element, with full information being requested by insurers - often with little tolerance for inadequate answers - and increased premiums and / or deductibles for underperformance. 

Despite intense competition in this segment of marine insurance, most insurers have made substantial profit in 2003 and are still fighting for market share. Such attitude will sooner than later generate premium reductions and / or losses for insurers.
 

War risks

There is a popular view that war-risks insurance is a licence to print money. There have been relatively few high-profile marine losses apart from the 'Limburg' but premiums have risen quite a bit since the 11 September attacks.  

The nature of war-risks cover, however, makes it much harder to take a view on the fundamental profitability of this class of business. There are not so many traditional wars but more undeclared conflicts and at least the perception of a much higher terrorist threat.  

Although there are a run of regular losses from conflicts around the world and the occasional encounter between a ship and mines from either the second world war, the long running conflict in Sri Lanka or in other trouble spots.  

The biggest recent marine war-risks loss was not the terrorist attack that rendered the tanker 'Limburg' a constructive total loss, but a $125m claim arising from attacks on dredgers working in Indonesian waters.  

Carnival's latest cruiseship, the 2,620-passenger 'Queen Mary 2', will have war-risks cover equivalent to the $800m value of the hull. It will also have additional protection-and-indemnity war-risk cover of $400m on top.  

The Lloyd's underwriters who lead the P&I clubs war-risk programme are the same as those who write hull war risks so the aggregate risk on this single ship runs to $1.2bn, a figure that challenges the capacity of the war market.  

Marine war risks underwriters also write aviation and energy war risks so there is a single market in this class of business. A successful terrorist attack on such a ship would wipe out the total war-market's premium income for many years. 

War-risks cover has traditionally been limited to mobile property such as ships, aircraft and jack-up rigs that can flee a trouble-spot if necessary but there is now a limited market for cover for fixed objects such as offshore platforms and port installations.  

North Sea platforms generally have terrorist but not war cover, although some oil-and-gas installations in the Middle East have war cover.  

London war underwriters are planning to develop a new wording to match the recently introduced revision to the International Hull Clauses.  

The idea is to match the wordings so that risks excluded by the latter are given back in the same terms to avoid potential gaps and disputes. Revising the war clauses is, however, seen as a much simpler task than for the hull clauses.  

London also has a War Risks Rating Committee that publishes a tariff of minimum rates for both marine and aviation. However, these rates apply to cargo rather than ship or aircraft hulls.  

It should be noted that the French Marine Insurance market has pooled a significant underwriting capacity through the G.A.R.E.X. which is able to offer alternative coverage to the London market.
 

The P&I Clubs (Protection & Indemnity)

Since 1994/1995, members of the International Group of P&I Club have not seen a surplus. Nine of the 13 Clubs of the International Group announced a double-digit increase in rates in order to consolidate their reserves and to be able to face the growing trend towards catastrophes in the future. 

The Clubs are extremely conscious about the effect of a catastrophic disaster occurring to a large cruise ship or tanker, which would place their capacity (and that of their re-insurers) under pressure. There is a potential risk of conflict between the demand for capacity and the available supply on the insurance and re-insurance markets. 

The Athens Convention on passenger indemnity in the case of disaster is a serious cause of concern for the Clubs. Cruise ships only account for 1% of the world tonnage (dwt) but the owners and managers of the Clubs are preoccupied by the cost of claims which would result from a new 'Titanic' which would sink the capacity of clubs to underwrite all the other owners. 

These fears are reinforced with the coming into force of the Athens Convention protocol, which has increased the level of indemnity to 400 000 SDR ($ 570 000) per passenger. The whole market from now on living under the threat of a $ 1.75 billion disaster, if the largest cruiseship was lost with all the passengers on board.
 

2004: a critical year

Dans l'int'r't des armateurs, les assureurs doivent prouver qu'ils ont tir' les le'ons du pass' et analys' les raisons des pertes qui ont affect' lourdement leur industrie (6 milliards $ de pertes en 6 ans). La performance des compagnies et des P&I Clubs d'pend d'sormais de leur aptitude ' poursuivre plus avant une politique attentive de tarification et simultan'ment de s'lection accrue des risques, tout en consolidant leurs parts de march'.  

Contrairement ' l'ann'e 2003 durant laquelle peu d''v'nements majeurs se sont produits, l'ann'e 2004 semble d'buter plus difficilement avec notamment les sinistres ayant affect' le vraquier 'Rocknes' (18 morts) en Norv'ge et le navire de croisi're en construction en Allemagne 'Pride of America', d'une valeur de 380 millions $. 

La pr'servation de la ressource et des r'serves des assureurs maritimes constituera un facteur d'terminant dans leur capacit' ' faire face aux 'v'nements majeurs et ' r'pondre ' la demande. 

Les assur's - tant les armateurs que les industriels - ont besoin d'un march' stable et suffisamment profitable, faute de quoi l'assurance maritime ne sera plus en mesure d'attirer les capitaux n'cessaires, et les hausses excessives de primes constat'es au milieu des ann'es 90 risqueraient de se reproduire, ' un moment o' les marges de nos clients pourraient ' nouveau se r'duire ! 

For the sake of owners, insurers must show that they have learnt the lessons of the past and analysed the reasons for the losses, which have badly hit the industry. From now on the success of companies and P&I Clubs depends on their ability to take a keener interest in the setting of premiums and at the same time a more attentive selection to risks, while struggling for their market share.

Unlike 2003, when very few major events troubled the picture, the year 2004 seems to have started with bigger problems, as we have already had claims affecting the bulk carrier 'Rocknes' (18 killed) in Norway and the cruise ship under construction in Germany, the 'Pride of America', with a value of $380 million.

Being able to maintain their funding and reserves will be a critical factor for marine insurers in determining their capacity to handle major disasters and to respond to the market evolution.

Those insured - as much owners as industry - need to have a stable and sufficiently profitable market, without which marine insurance will not be able to attract the necessary capital, and the excessive increases in premiums which were seen in the 1990's, risks happening again, at a time when clients' profits could again get reduced.

Cap-Marine undertakes to find the best solutions
for its clients within the international market.
 



Shipping and Shipbuilding Markets in 2003

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