British Marine can trace its roots back as far as 1866, although it was first formally registered on 29th February 1876 as the umbrella organisation for a number of mutual Hull insurance clubs managed by Edward Reid Evans. It was limited by guarantee to £5 and seven subscribers formed the first committee of the Association.
The seven mutual clubs under British Marine’s management initially offered hull insurance to owners of steamers and sailing ships. Protection for loss of life, improper navigation, one fourth collision costs and damage to docks and piers was added in 1878, and Indemnity cover for the ship owners’ increasingly onerous liability towards cargo carried was introduced in 1886; the embryonic incarnation of the Protection and Indemnity (P&I) insurance offered by British Marine today.
In 1917 British Marine entered into an arrangement on behalf of the British Government to offer War Risk insurance to British flag ships. In the remaining period of the First World War, the Association recorded only 13 losses and three damages to entered ships. Given the heavy losses suffered by the British fleet prior to 1917, an unexpected surplus had accrued and was refunded to its members, cementing the good reputation of British Marine.
The boom experienced by the British coastal fleet after the First World War soon collapsed and many owners laid up their tonnage or sold out as the average freight volumes fell by 45%. The effect on the number of ships entered in British Marine’s Hull & Machinery class was dramatic, as the Association drew the bulk of its members from the coastal trade. Hull & Machinery insurance was therefore discontinued from 1925, and remained closed until reintroduced in 1971.
From its inception, British Marine has catered to the needs of small to medium-sized ships, notably tugs and harbour craft, fishing vessels and cargo vessels. Such was British Marine's expertise in insuring smaller ships that, for long periods, they provided re-insurance to such ships entered with both British and French mutuals.
Through the 20th Century, as smaller ships have become increasingly sophisticated to meet the growing demands of their trades, and as the liabilities imposed on vessels has evolved, British Marine's P&I terms and conditions have been adapted and its expertise in servicing the small ships’ sector has increased.
Whilst 80% and upwards of the British Marine membership had been British in its first 75 years, as the British merchant fleet diminished through the 1950’s and onwards, the management pushed to diversify the geographical spread of the membership. By 1970, the Association’s membership was 60% non-British. Today, British Marine is a truly international insurer with more than 90% of its business based outside Britain.
Because of its focus on smaller ships, British Marine has always stood outside the International Group of P&I Clubs, and its predecessor, the London Group, as these pools were created to reduce exposure to claims of a magnitude that would generally only be incurred by larger ships. Instead of participating in the pooling arrangements with other Clubs, British Marine has purchased its own reinsurance to protect against high-value claims and, since its de-mutualisation, has offered limits of liability bespoke to the vessel.
A major milestone in British Marine's history was reached when the Clubs under management were demutualised in 2000. The much increased P&I exposures of even small and medium-sized vessels, challenged the underwriting stability of an independent mutual and owners’ distaste for unbudgeted additional premium calls was particularly strong in the small ships’ sector. Following the demutualisation, British Marine became the first marine insurer to offer both Hull & Machinery and P&I insurance on a fixed price basis, incorporating the service ethic practised over the mutual years. The subsequent growth of the P&I class and stability of the Hull and Machinery class is testament to the wisdom of that decision.
Following almost 6 years as an independent Luxembourg-based insurance company offering fixed premium Hull and Machinery and P&I insurance British Marine was acquired by QBE in November 2005.
In 2013, British Marine, in collaboration with colleagues insuring P&I risks in Asian countries, launched a combined P&I product, operating out of Singapore and drawing on the tradition and technical expertise in British Marine and the local knowledge and contacts of the QBE Asia offices.
Today, British Marine operates from London as part of QBE’s European Operations. It maintains its traditional products and service philosophy, underpinned by the financial strength of one of the world’s leading professional insurance companies.