August 16 - When they meet next month in Paris, international marine underwriters will discuss all lines of marine insurance business.

The International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) says that at its forum the curse of piracy and its vicious implications in human terms, as well as its impact on world trade through disrupting cargoes and the financial losses inflicted on shipowners and insurers, will be fully debated. 

More than 500 marine underwriters, and senior representatives from many international maritime organisations, are expected to attend the event from September 18-21, 2011. 

Although there has been a lull in Somali pirate operations because of the monsoon, the past few weeks have seen a worrying upsurge in attacks off West Africa, with a number of vessels successfully hijacked. It has been reported there are now 21 countries, in part or in whole, which are affected by piracy. 

But Somalia remains the critical threat. According to the anti-piracy naval forces in the area, more than 400 seafarers are currently being held hostage on some 20 vessels. There have been murders and ill-treatment, with many stories of torture and seafarers deprived of adequate food, sleep and health care. 

Earlier this year, Ole Wikborg, the Norwegian president of IUMI, called the hostages "the world's forgotten mariners." He said today that the piracy problems in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean were "an absolutely unacceptable disruption of global trade to which marine insurers must respond." 

He added: "The cargo as well as the hull & machinery insurance markets have made their contributions to mitigate the financial losses resulting from the hijacking or detainment of vessels. Insurers have also helped in negotiations with the pirates and to provide the funds demanded to release crews and return them safely to their homes and families." 

The president noted that IUMI has made contributions to Best Management Practice No. 3 and subsequent initiatives which formulate the precautions shipowners and operators should take to minimise the probability of attacks. And in line with the maritime transportation industry at large, property underwriters have taken a more ambivalent stand on the use of armed guards to reduce the risk of a vessel becoming the next victim. 

A packed programme of presentations, workshops and panel discussions will take up the three days which is being held under the title: 'The Evolution of Risk, Safety and Security', and many of the topics will be harnessed to this theme. 

On the opening Monday morning the industry keynote speaker will be Bernard Anne, executive vice president and managing director of Bureau Veritas Marine Division, the fast expanding French classification society. Denis Kessler, chief executive of SCOR, the French reinsurer, will also give a keynote presentation. 

The IUMI annual forum covers the gamut of marine insurance. Some of the highlights will include an update on IUMI's casualty statistics and changes in the world merchant and offshore energy fleets; the relentless development of shipboard technology, with computers controlling bridge, engineroom and deck operations, and its impact on insurers; the trend towards building mega-size containerships and cruiseships and consideration of the design, safety and salvage aspects; will nuclear-powered merchant ships be a viable option? The debate will be led by John Carlton, president of IMarEST (Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology); the great earthquake and tsunami in east Japan earlier this year and the impact on Japanese insurers and international reinsurers; vessel vetting and crisis management, by Luc Gillet, group head of shipping at French oil major Total; update by the Panamanian Ambassador to France on the Panama Canal's expansion programme; Mega yachts - increasing sophistication, increasing values; cargo theft during inland transit; the evolution of upstream energy risks and new risks involved in deepwater drilling. 

Fritz Stabinger, the Zurich-based secretary general of IUMI, said today: "Our technical committees and our French marine insurance association hosts have worked very hard to construct a programme that will be informative and stimulating, and IUMI continues to welcome top-flight personalities from the worlds of insurance and shipping to participate as guest speakers."