Titan submersible and the truth behind the insurance risks

CEO says insurance is set up in a way that it can't be used as an excuse

Titan submersible and the truth behind the insurance risks


By Terry Gangcuangco

“The way that travel insurance is set up is so that people don’t use it as an excuse to behave recklessly.”

Those were the words of Allianz Partners New Zealand chief executive Kevin Blyth (pictured) when he sat down with Insurance Business to talk about adventure tourism – a space spanning activities like skiing and scuba diving – and travel insurance following the infamous Titan submersible implosion.

“Titan was absolutely at the extreme end of adventure tourism,” Blyth said. “In travel insurance, there’s already a bunch of ways that react to what we could call adventure tourism. If you look at the underwater piece, the diving piece, there will be general exclusions for scuba diving, unless you’ve got your own diving licence or you’re with someone who’s training you to do it and they’ve got a licence. So, you’ve already got some protections on what people can do.

“Similarly, if you’re looking at skiing, you’re fine on the ski slopes of a normal resort, but if you’re going off piste, that’s when you start moving into dangerous zones because you may not be covered. The way I look at it is it’s almost the same as if you’ve got a car and you’ve got your car insurance – you’re fine for driving from ‘A’ to ‘B’, but if you take it to Hampton Downs and want to race around the track, you’re not going to be insured on there because that’s not what you’re looking at covering.

“So, while I think that Titan was on the severe end of it – I mean, most people aren’t going to be able to afford US$250,000 to go on something like that, and I guess, if they can, they’re probably quite happy with self-insuring in any case – I think when you look at that, the way that travel insurance is set up is so that people don’t use it as an excuse to behave recklessly.”

Deadly expedition not insured?

Following the above premise, it would appear unlikely that the tragic deep-sea expedition had a proportionate level of cover for the massive risks involved – risks that were outlined in the waivers signed by the passengers, who knew well of the potential dangers.

“I understand the inherent risks in the activities that will be undertaken during the expedition,” reads part of the waiver published by Insider.

The document is signed by participants to “release, waive, and forever discharge” all parties involved – even subcontractors – in the sale or organisation of the expedition from all liabilities, actions, or claims.

Part of the waiver states: “A portion of the expedition will be conducted inside an experimental submersible vessel that will dive 3,800 meters to the shipwreck of the Titanic. The experimental submersible vessel has not been approved or certified by any regulatory body and is constructed of materials that have not been widely used for manned submersibles…

“When diving below the ocean surface, this vessel will be subject to extreme pressure, and any failure of the vessel while I am aboard could cause me severe injury, disability, emotional trauma, other harm, and/or death.”

Passengers, through signing the waiver, are expressing their voluntary participation “with full knowledge of the facts… including the described risks and unknown risks” associated with the Titanic wreck tour.

For Blyth, the release itself already says a lot.

“They were signing a waiver saying that if something happened, the company wasn’t up to covering anything,” Blyth told Insurance Business. “I think that in itself would have been a concern to somebody who was going to go into a [submersible] that is locked from the outside.”

A submersible, unlike a submarine, does not have the capability to come back up on its own, according to US agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Getting in a submersible that is going down 3,800 meters, that – if you believe the different aspects of the media reports – wasn’t what you should be doing and wasn’t what it was made to do, you’re going to have risks associated with it,” Blyth said. “In travel insurance, you’ve already got some protections built in to stop people doing reckless things.”

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