Average adjusters’ Zoom conference welcomes new Chair

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With the Covid-19 lockdown, things were very different for the Association of Average Adjusters’ AGM in 2020 but the organisation nonetheless held a virtual AGM on Zoom that encompassed Asia, Australasia and Europe and were therefore able to complete the business of the Association to conclude its 150th year.

The outgoing chairman, Richard Cornah, said that nobody could have envisaged how the second half of the anniversary year would have turned out. It was a sad moment when the May dates had to be abandoned, but spirits were soon lifted when the Savoy Hotel was able to offer an alternative date of 1st October 2020 for the dinner, and the Association of Average Adjusters of the United States and Canada graciously put back its autumn annual dinner for a week to avoid a clash of commitments. The Annual Conference will, as usual, take place during the morning of the same day.

Cornah reported that marine market gatherings to celebrate the 150th anniversary were able to go ahead in Cyprus, Dubai, and London, but events that were due to follow in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore had to be shelved.

The chairman thanked Burkhard Fischer for continuing to serve as Association vice-chairman and Michiel Starmans for agreeing to take over the helm as chairman. Michiel qualified as a Fellow in 2001 before going on to head the legal department at the Spliethoff Group, which operates more than 100 vessels and is preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary next year.

Starmans, whose appointment takes effect for 12 months from May 2020, said it was a great honour to lead the association which has just completed its 150th anniversary year and was well equipped through its strengthened structure and its expertise to meet global challenges including the impact of COVID-19. He declared, “The Association has survived world crises before like the Spanish flu a century ago, the Great Depression in the 1930s and the First and Second World Wars, so it is in the line of expectations that we will overcome this pandemic and the unavoidable worldwide economic recession as well.”

Among specific issues likely to confront average adjusters was the impact of Marpol Annex VI regulations which from January 2020 reduced the global limit of sulphur content in bunker fuels on board ships from 3.5% to 0.5% (with tighter restrictions in designated emission control areas).

It remained to be seen what consequences these new environmental regulations might have, “but it is not unthinkable that this might lead to an increase or a new type of engine damage with engines that were designed and built to burn high sulphur fuels. There will be new challenges for adjusters to deal with claims for excess costs of running the engines on low sulphur fuel after a scrubber broke down and is awaiting repairs.”

New regulations and new technologies might result in new types of claims and the same would apply to breakdown of ballast water treatment equipment following the Ballast Water Management Convention. “If the marine insurance market demands uniformity amongst adjusters to deal with these new types of claims, the Association shall be ready to assist,” assured the new chairman.

Starmans affirmed: “The Association represents a group of highly skilled maritime professionals in the international marine and insurance industry, which upholds professional standards of expertise amongst its members through education, training, and examination. This provides the required warranty of impartiality and uniformity of practice in adjusting claims for both marine insurers and their assureds.”

Starmans has been a Fellow of the Association of Average Adjusters since 2001, and from 2011 a member of the Association Mondiale de Dispacheurs/International Association of Average Adjusters.

Earlier in his career, he was an average adjuster at the Rotterdam office of ER Lindley (later Richards Hogg Lindley) and before that at the London office of that firm. He began in the sector as a paralegal at the London office of Withers solicitors.

He has been a member of the insurance and legal affairs working group of the Dutch shipowners’ organisation since 2003, and of the General Average commission of the Dutch maritime law association since 2013. He is one of the Dutch shipowner members of the BIMCO documentary committee.

He has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Dutch law from Erasmus University Rotterdam and a master’s in English business law from City of London Polytechnic. He qualified as an Associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute in 1993.

Starmans succeeds Richard Cornah, who is Liverpool-based chairman of Richards Hogg Lindley, as leader of the Association. Cornah said, “Despite the busy demands of the shipping business, Michiel has maintained close links to the Association as a non-practising Fellow, most recently serving on the Association committee of management. With his broad knowledge of shipping matters, together with his incisive grasp of insurance and General Average issues, he will bring a unique perspective to the role of chairman.”

Burkhard Fischer of Albatross Adjusters, Limassol, has agreed to continue as vice-chairman. Cornah paid tribute to his key role, along with that of Association treasurer Tristan Miller (associate director for claims management at Willis Towers Watson) and Ann Waite of consultancy AW Marine (Association secretary) in completing the final stages of the incorporation process of the Association, creating a new structure essential for a successful future. The aims of the Association remain “the promotion of correct principles in the adjustment of Averages and uniformity of practice amongst Average Adjusters and the maintenance of good professional conduct.”