Archive for Life Insurance

Was The RMS Titanic Sinking An Insurance Fraud?

In 1998 American Robert Gardiner in his book ‘Titanic: The ship that never sank’, first postulated the theory that on the 14th of April 1912, a hundred years ago today, that RMS Titanic was scuttled for the Insurance money.

More importantly it wasn’t even the Titanic that sank, but her older decaying and seriously damaged sistership, RMS Olympic, in what would become one of the greatest insurance frauds of all time – if proved to be true!

Was the Titanic disaster the greatest Insurance fraud ever?

Mystery, Myth and Money Surround The Whole "Titanic" Sinking Tragedy

Insurance Blogger whilst initially thinking what a load of ……, decided to look deeper into the ‘conspiracy’ and in particular the question of marine insurance for the vessel.

In order for the possibility of an insurance fraud to have taken place answers must be given to the following questions:-

Did the Owners, Company or individuals stand to benefit from the total loss of a ship?

Could the Titanic have been swapped for the Olympic as Gardiner proclaims?

What evidence is there to prove that the ship lying two and a half miles down at the bottom of the Atlantic is indeed the Olympic ?

Incredible as it first seems, the more you look into the assertations, the more feasible the fraud becomes!

And there is some amazing evidence to suggest that persons or persons unknown conspired to defraud the insurers of £1 million of hull cover, unknown P & I liability losses and cost life insurance and personal accident companies nearly £3 million.

Titanic – The Case for Insurance Fraud

Before we discuss the evidence for fraud in the sinking of the Titanic it is important to set the economic scene for 1912.
In particular the fight for the most lucrative transport routes at the time, not dissimilar to the airline struggles of today with the exception that sea travel had a monopoly on trans-atlantic trade, there was no alternative.

The White Star Line was ultimately owned by International Mercantile Marine (IMM) and after years of struggling to win trade, they commisioned the Olympic class liners in 1907 to try to take the luxury end of the market.
For the previous fifteen years the lucrative passenger sea traffic to and from the US from the UK, France and Europe was dominated by the super-fast German mercantile fleets that held the Blue Riband for the fastest crossings.
The SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse and SS Deutschland (1900) owned respectively by the Norddeutscher Lloyd and the Hamburg America Line HAPAG, the two German top shipping companies.

In the UK, Cunard rose to the challenge with the launch of the RMS Mauretania and her ill-fated sister ship, the RMS Lusitania. The ships were very fast and the Mauretania went on to keep the coveted Blue Riband for more than twenty years, from 1907 to 1929.

The White Star Line, who had been losing money for years, struck back with the Olympic class and the upgraded Titanic was supposed to be the largest and fastest of the luxury ocean liners to rival the Maurtania for speed.

Construction of Olympic started in December 1908 and Titanic in March 1909.
The two ships were built side by side at Harland and Wolff’s Belfast Shipyard.
The construction of a third ship the RMS Gigantic began in 1911 after the commissioning of Olympic and Titanic’s launch.
Following the sinking of Titanic, Gigantic was renamed Britannic, and the two remaining vessels underwent many changes in their safety provisions. The Britannic was sunk by a mine in 1916.


What was Covered?

Willis Faber & Co. (today part of the Willis Group) are reported to have brokered the deal for underwriting the hull and cargo insurance for the Titanic. The original boat insurance slip was passed to Lloyds Mercantile Dept for underwriting, but is since reported lost to this day.

There is some dispute about the value of the Willis contract however all newspaper reports of claims paid out and enquiries staged immediately after the sinking report that the Hull was underwritten for loss and liability at Lloyds for $5,000,000.

In 1912 both the USA and the UK were on the Gold standard and the exchange rate was always very close to $4.87 to the £1 or 0.21. This meant that the policy for the hull was insured for around £1,050,000. Perhaps more importantly, the actual cost of building or replacing the vessel was £1,680,000 or $8m, meaning that the hull was significantly under-insured and the owners were bearing a third of the risk as captive. This was an unusually high amount of risk taking. At the time marine insurance would usually only provide for three quarters of the risks, as P & I Clubs (ship owners collective pools) always carried a quarter of the collision liability risk and provided accident cover for the crew, and still do to this day.
It is unknown what if any cover was paid out by White Star to a P & I Club for staff liability. What became evident after the event to many of the 800 plus families of the Crew that perished, who were nearly all from Southampton, was that they received paltry or little compensation for their losses and years of subsequent poverty.

In addition to the hull cover, the marine insurance policy issued by Lloyd’s to the White Star Line for the Titanic included total loss cover for cargo at $600,000 and personal effects at £400,000, which equates to £126,000 marine cargo and £84,000 for personal effects. Both these sums insured proved to be inadequate following the disaster.

What Was Lost?

In an act of incredulous speed all claims by the White Star Line for loss of the Titanic, were paid out within a week of the ship sinking and the Lutine Bell being rung at Lloyd’s on the 15th of April.

The company was reimbursed for the loss in a straightforward process that was completed long before any official enquiries heard evidence as to the cause of the sinking.

Claims for loss of life and personal effects were taking a little longer.
Imagine that today, when you have to wait weeks for compensation for just a minor car insurance claim!

The New York Times of one week after the disaster, reported the speed of the claims payouts and lists all the amounts claimed and the processes involved in the claim.

Titanic claims paid out in super fast time!

Click to read the original NY Times reports that all Titanic claims are paid out within a week!

The list of Claims losses paid out were:

Titanic Hull Insurance – Actual loss $8,000,000 – Paid out $5,000,000

Titanic Cargo Insurance – Actual Loss $420,000 – Paid out $400,000

Titanic Personal Effects – Actual Loss $1,000,000  – Paid out $600,000

Life Assurance Passengers -  Actual Loss >$4,000,00 – Paid out $2,125,000

Over 119 Life insurance companies paid out the largest of which was the Travelers Insurance company of Hartford, Connecticut.

Personal Accident Claims – Actual Loss >$2,000,000 – Paid out $1,564,000

Over 48 personal accident companies were involved in claims payouts.

The Olympic Switch

The case for an insurance fraud begins with the RMS Olympic. If a conspiracy to defraud existed it would have began sometime after September 1911 and before April 1912.

On September 20th 1911 while in the Solent returning to Southampton RMS Olympic was struck and severely damaged by a collision with cruiser HMS Hawke.

The Liner, despite being holed above and below the water-line in two places and damaged for 38 feet, made it the fifteen miles or so back to port under tug.

Eyewitness reports suggest that the route of the Hawke and the Olympic intersecting may not have been an accident at all. Interestingly, the Captain of the ship that day was none other than Edward J Smith, Captain of the ‘”Titanic” some seven months later.  The ship was temporarily patched up and returned to dock in Belfast alongside the nearly complete Titanic.

White Star quickly had the damage assessed by marine engineers, and put in a claim. However beause it was well below a policy excess of $750,000,  the claim was repudiated.  In December White Star brought the claim to court, this time claiming $750,000 for loss and damage to the ship including lost passenger effects, to make up the difference to the excess.

The court ruled that the collision was entirely the fault of the Olympic, the only saving grace being that they would not have to pay damages to the Royal Navy as the Olympic was under compulsory pilotage at the time. A further appeal was rejected in 1913.

Unable to collect money for her repairs, White Star was left with a severely damaged ship, quite possibly a lot more damaged than originally thought, which was losing money by the day, by being unable to collect fares and fulfill bookings.

Titanic and Olympic in Harland & Wolff Belfast

Titanic and Olympic undergoing sea trials in Belfast early 1912. But which one is which?

The basis of the case for conspiracy to defraud starts here.

Gardiner asserts that the damage to the Olympic was tantamount to a write-off. In particular the secondary damage to her starboard engines, drive-shafts and propellers which rendered her incapable of reaching speeds of more than ten knots as she limped back to Belfast for repair.

On closer inspection of the damage at Harland and Wolff it was realised that it would take six months to get her in the least bit seaworthy again. The repairs would have to be paid for by the White Star Line which was already committed to $16 million for the building of the Titanic and the half-built Britannic.

The costs of the repairs would in effect wipe out the White Star operating profit for that year, a third of the income of IMM, and the losses from having no ships at sea for six months would equate to another $500,000 plus.

The decision was taken by senior executives at both White Star Line and Harland and Wolff to swap the ships and bring into service, the very near to completion Titanic, as the Olympic.

If the decision had not been taken jobs would be lost and the shipyard and White Star would be threatened with closure.

Getting the Titanic a certificate of seaworthiness was at least six months away. Olympic already had one!

The Swap

Ship swap is reported to be the most common form of marine insurance fraud practiced in the 19th century although this is as yet unsubstantiated.

It would only take a handful of ready picked dockers and tug operators and a skeleton crew to be involved in any movement and re-berthing of the ships, particularly as they were constantly being put to sea for tests.

Both ships were mysteriously painted in the same black and white livery, the Olympic having previously been painted all white.

After the repairs in Belfast including changes to cabins, without doubt the only outwardly visible reported differences between the two ships appears to be the layout of the 1st class passenger B deck, which was enclosed on the Titanic according to the original plans. Photos of the ‘Titanic‘ leaving Southampton and Queenstown show a different layout!

Fitters, Electricians, carpenters etc in Belfast would not necessarily know which ship they were on a short term contract for, and even if they did, they were kitted out almost identically. Final fittings and named objects could have been loaded on-board in boxes to both ships at anytime. In the closed shop world of the protestant dockyards of Belfast and the fraternal offices above, a conspiracy involving less people than the Great Train Robbery is not so hard to envisage.

None of the crew or staff would have been aware of what ship they were on when they signed on in Southampton.  Just what the nameplate told them.

The “Olympic” put to sea and started earning off the North Atlantic run in early 1912. It was only two hundred miles from the “Titanic”  returning to the UK, when the “Titanic” sank!

There is some excellent photographic evidence which shows the damage repairs to the  Olympic following its collision with HMS Hawke and in later years where there is no sign whatsoever of repairs!

You can read more about the ship swap, see photographic evidence and watch a documentary at TitanicUniverse

You should also have a look at Mark Chirnside’s university dissertation which argues subjectively the case against a fraud.

Having looked at all the evidence Insurance Blog believes that a ship swap did take place, however not for the purposes of committing an insurance fraud but out of business economic necessity.

So how did what had been a business decision to hoodwink the Ministry of Transport turn into an insurance fraud?

Well the matter of an Iceberg for one thing!

Gardiner goes on to explain all sorts of incredulous reasoning about how White Star planned to scuttle the ship and had pre-arranged a collision in mid-Atlantic, however all this was unnecessary if the iceberg was just an accident.

This explains why the ship was under-insured, White Star never had any intention of scuttling the ship. The swap was purely to keep the company in business!

White Star did effectively gain out of the loss of the “Titanic”.  The loss cost them just £680,000.  A lot less than the $8 million required to fund a new vessel, which they did!

As an interesting footnote, Chairman of White Star J Bruce Ismay, the man William Randolph Hearst choose to bully and pillory as a coward, went on to hold prominent Director positions on the boards of the Liverpool and London Insurance Company, Globe Insurance Company, Royal Insurance Company and the Thames and Mersey Marine Insurance Company.

Critical Illness Insurance Cover – Don’t Leave It Until Its Too Late!

Long term chronic or terminal illness is one of those risks than could afflict us all. It’s really an essential part of health insurance that is often overlooked or not covered, yet if it strikes critical illnesses are the most devastating to you and your family.

With this grim prospect in mind Insurance Blog gets you up to speed on this most essential of modern covers.

Understanding critical illness insurance

Critical illness is, by its very nature, no laughing matter. It might be advisable, therefore, to take critical illness insurance just as seriously.

What is critical illness insurance?

This cover is a form of protection that seeks to provide you with a lump sum payment should you be diagnosed with what is described by the policy as a critical illness.

Such a payment may come in very useful, as one of the consequences arising from a critical illness may be financial disruption to your normal routine. For example, you may not only lose your income (or find it significantly reduced) but at the same time, also find that you’re incurring additional costs for things such as medical aids or home help etc.

The very last thing anyone needs when they’re critically ill, is cause to start worrying about things such as bills and income.

That is why critical illness insurance exists.

What conditions are covered?

You will only be able to know this for sure, by looking at the detail contained within an individual policy or site (one such example may be found at criticalillnessinsurance.com).

As a general principle, a wide range of conditions may be covered including many of the major life-threatening conditions.

Remember though that the conditions covered may vary significantly between policies and providers – it may be advisable to look closely at the conditions covered to ensure that you’re happy that you have the cover you feel you need.

What about existing medical conditions?

Individual insurance providers may have different positions in this respect, however, typically they will exclude pre-existing conditions (or attach special conditions to them).

It is extremely important that any such conditions are openly and explicitly declared at the time you take out your policy or it may prejudice a future claim.

How many times will the policy pay out?

Typically once. This insurance is intended to cover a one-off diagnosis.

There is a form of cover called serious illness insurance that may pay out several times for different multiple conditions when diagnosed. Once again, sites such as criticalillnessinsurance.com may prove to be useful in outlining the differences.

Is such insurance cost-effective?

Both the cover provided and the prices of policies, will vary.

A sensible selection process would involve balancing the two against your requirements, however, in the case of any insurance, it may be difficult to define what cost-effective actually means.

You may sincerely hope that you never need to call upon your critical illness insurance but knowing it is there, may be prove to be priceless for your peace of mind.

A brief history of Insurance: Part 3 Roman Life Insurance

Part Three: Roman Burial Clubs – the precursor to modern life insurance:

Welcome back to this fascinating series exploring the history of insurance…
To briefly recap, in the previous article we discovered that many phrases we are still aware of today within marine insurance such as General Average and indeed the very concept of Maritime Loans were created by the ancient Greek civilisation nearly two and a half millennia ago.

As with so much of the Greek culture these concepts of early insurance were integrated and absorbed into Roman culture which followed. It was under the influence of the arguably more economically aware Romans that these concepts began to become more progressively monetised and more in keeping with our understanding of modern insurance.

However one area of insurance that was to last throughout the ages clearly originated solely as a Roman concept – this was in fact Life Insurance.

The popularisation of Roman ‘Burial Clubs’ was indeed the very first format for life insurance and holds many of the core principals that we now include within a modern Life Insurance policy.

The Burial Clubs arose out of a commonly held Roman belief that unless a man was buried correctly his spirit would remain troubled. The troubled spirit would be unable to pass into the next world and instead would remain locked to this existence becoming a particularly miserable ghost – something that most of us would like to avoid if at all possible.

So the superstitions and religious views of the times made it pretty damned important the Romans to make sure that when they did head off to Elysium, that they had a decent send off. Whilst this is all well and good for those in power and with wealth, for your average Legionnaire trying to carve out an honest living, this could of course could be a bit of a worry.

And so the ‘Burial Club’ was born.

These groups, originally consisted primarily of soldiers but eventually grew to incorporate all levels of Roman society. The simple premise was that the group required members to regularly donate to a common fund, which was then used in the event of a members death to fund the funeral. As the popularity of these clubs grew so did their complexities, ultimately resulting in not only payment for pre agreed funeral arrangements but also an inclusion of an additional stipend to provide for the surviving members of the immediate family of the deceased.

It is interesting to note that during this period of Rome’s history groups which encouraged the proletariat to come together either economically or politically were generally outlawed by the government. The thinking was that the meetings themselves could become dangerous incubators for rebellious individuals, who may in turn rise up and threaten the current status quo.

However, not only were Burial Clubs accepted, they were actively encouraged by the government and military. Such was the strength of conviction that it was absolutely essential for each member of the community, regardless of their standing in society, be buried in the correct manner.

So while none of the major life insurers are basing their sales pitch around ‘you better pay your premium otherwise you’ll end up a miserable ghost for eternity’, the fundamental ideals of the Roman Burial club, which are well over two thousand years old, are likely to seem reasonably familiar to any of us with a a life insurance policy today.

Through modern life insurance, we still steadfastly hold to the principle that by aggregating the financial power of many, we can provide support for those in need which would simply not be available otherwise. It was this simple principal that led to the development of the ancient Roman Burial Clubs and indeed the fact that this underlying ethos remains unchanged is the heart of modern Life insurance also.
In the next instalment of this series we shall return to the seas as we discuss the invention of separate insurance contracts in Genoa in the 14th Century.