Cyclone Debbie claims start to mount

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One of the boats washed ashore at Airlie Beach during the cyclone.
One of the boats washed ashore at Airlie Beach during the cyclone.

Marine insurers out in force assisting boaters hit by category 4 cyclone.

Hard on the heels of Cyclone Debbie which bashed its way through the Whitsunday region last week, assessors from local marine insurance companies were out in force, responding to claims from boaters who were adversely affected.

While access to the region was hampered initially, the insurers were quick to despatch their staff to deal with the influx of claims resulted from the cyclone's impact. Initial reports suggest that while damage is extensive, particularly in the cruising heartland of Hamilton Island, fewer boats had been lost than expected.

Club Marine Insurance responded by sending its Catastrophe Response Team to the region, headed by national technical claims manager Phillip Johnson, who has experienced similar situations with cyclones Yasi, Ului and Marcia, and national assessing manager David Hughes. After heading to Airlie Beach to assess the situation, the pair managed to hire a commercial vessel to take them out to Hamilton Island where the damage was most severe and are currently operating out of a mobile office on board the vessel.

Karen Te Maipi, head of brand and direct at Club Marine, said that after the initial flood of claims immediately after the cyclone, the numbers coming in were now starting to level off. The insurer has already paid out about $300,000 in settlements to date and it expects total claims to number over 200, worth an estimated $7.5 million, although that figure is likely to grow as claims continue to come in.

Te Maipi said that, compared to previous major weather events, Cyclone Debbie resulted in more widespread damage to boats but fewer total write-offs. The most badly affected area was Hamilton Island with many boats damaged whilst moored or in the marinas. This resulted in extensive repairable damage to boats but not “piles of broken boats”.

The volume of repairs means it will likely take many weeks for all the affected boats to be fixed but Club Marine said it is working with manufacturers to deliver a fast response to those affected.

Our priority is to give out members the best service possible,” said Te Maipi. “We're here when they need us.”

Lyndon Turner, CEO at Nautilus Marine Insurance, said the company also had people on the ground in the region and that the claims processes were functioning well. The company's experience with previous similar catastrophes meant that it was well-prepared to deal with the aftermath of Debbie.

We're focused on making sure our clients are happy,” he commented

While it is too early to give exact figures, Turner said that the company's risk mitigation programs it had put in place in the wake of previous events meant that its exposure was likely to be less than previous years.

With the clean-up under way, local marine operations were keen to reassure boaters that the region will be “open for business” as soon as possible.

Luke McCaul, managing director of Abell Point Marina which bore the brunt of the cyclone, said in a statement: “Whilst it will be a short while to get our services and facilities up and running to our normal standard, our focus is in ensuring our customers are free to explore the beautiful Whitsundays this season.

Whether it is chartering a superyacht or basing yourself in the Whitsundays this winter, we are determined to have our first class services and facilities ready for your welcome.”

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