Beirut Blast – Middle East insurers seen taking bulk of losses

Middle East insurers seen taking bulk of losses from Beirut blast

LONDON, Aug 13 – Insurers in the Middle East are expected to absorb a large part of the losses from Beirut’s explosion last week with Lloyd’s of London and other international players expected to be less exposed, insurance industry sources said.

Lebanese officials have blamed the Aug. 4 blast, which killed at least 172 people and left much of the capital in ruins, on a stockpile of ammonium nitrate catching fire after being stored unsafely at the port for years.

Insurance industry sources also said the major share of losses would be in property damage rather than in marine exposure to ships or the port itself.

“The majority of exposure will be on the building damage side and to the extent that it is covered beyond the property markets, there will be very significant business interruption,” a Lloyd’s of London market source said.

“Much of it (the risk) may be covered by local markets,” the source said, which could include insurers in Dubai.

A Lloyd’s of London spokeswoman said it was too early to quantify the insured losses.

Lebanon has said it expects losses of up to $15 billion from the blast, but industry sources said they expected insured losses of nearer $3 bln, most of it in property.

The discrepancy is partly because emerging market countries like Lebanon may have lower levels of insurance coverage.

The Lloyd’s market source said: “There will be a lot that isn’t insured and unfortunately business interruption is often an area where interpretations of wordings can be an issue.”

Another insurance industry source said losses on the marine hull and cargo side were expected to be limited.

Two shipping companies with vessels close to the port told Reuters their ships sustained minor damage and their crews were unharmed.

Zurich Insurance said on Thursday it had clients which operated in Lebanon but did not expect the blast to be a major loss event for the company.

Others such as Allianz, AXA and Munich Re said it was too soon to give estimates.

One insurer in Lebanon told Reuters it doubted that all of the 60 insurance companies operating there would survive given the coronavirus, financial turmoil and the blast.


By Jonathan Saul and Carolyn Cohn

(Editing by Jane Merriman)

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2020