Pull the Plug on Pirate Fishing

The London Market Associations release new contract clause to prevent marine insurers from doing business with vessels fishing illegally

In March 2023, the London insurance market’s Joint Hull Committee released a contract clause to exclude the provision of insurance services to vessels engaged in Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. Insurers will be able to retract services on “loss of, damage to, liability or expense” to any vessel that is listed on the IUU Fishing Vessel List of one or more Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs). The JHC represents and works with members of Lloyd’s and IUA, the leading global insurance and reinsurance marketplace. The London Market Associations have a long history of insuring the maritime sector and their engagement to combat IUU fishing is a crucial step forward in tackling this global issue.

RFMOs are international bodies with mandates to manage fish stocks in a particular region. RFMOs publish lists of vessels that have engaged in IUU fishing. These are aggregated on the Combined IUU Fishing Vessel List, maintained by the not-for-profit organisation TMT (Trygg Mat Tracking) – an online platform that provides the best available and up-to-date information about all fishing vessels which are included in the IUU fishing vessel lists published by RFMOs.

Importantly, the new clause published by JHC stipulates that coverage for IUU-listed fishing vessels shall be automatically terminated from the date of IUU listing. It also enables the insurer to cancel insurance for vessels under the same ownership, same group of companies or same management as any other IUU-listed vessel after a 7-day notice period.

Whereas previously insurers were able to terminate a contract in the case of illegal fishing (or any other illegal activity), termination for vessels that were listed as a result of unregulated or unreported fishing was less straightforward – a particular issue as many vessels are listed by RFMOs due to unregulated fishing (where they are not flagged to an RFMO member state). This clause provides a route for insurers to remove insurance for any vessels, as well as any related owners or managers, that have been listed for IUU fishing. Cutting off insurance for IUU fishing vessels, managers, or owners makes it more costly and risky to operate, which acts as a key lever to deter this illicit activity. It also protects insurers from exposure to financial and legal liabilities from association with these vessels. The publication of this clause represents a significant milestone in efforts to deny insurance to IUU fishing vessels, and its widespread adoption will be key.

“This due diligence contractual wording demonstrates the important role that insurers and underwriters play to tackle IUU fishing. This is yet another positive step forward towards reducing the financial incentives for IUU fishing,” said Pascale Moehrle, Oceana’s Executive Director and Vice President in Europe.

Illegal fishers cannot act on their own, and in order to operate successfully, they rely on companies which provide essential services, including insurance.

Oceana has engaged with insurers since 2016, focusing on creating awareness of the issue of IUU fishing within the marine insurance sector, and proposing policy solutions as well as action from authorities to tackle this issue. Building on this work, in September 2022, the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance (ORRAA), Global Fishing Watch, and TMT initiated a pilot project with insurers to test a data and insight tool, Vessel Viewer, to provide current and historical information on a vessel’s identity and activity, including presence on the RFMO IUU lists. The tool aims to help insurers to quickly identify risks and information gaps to inform their decision-making on whether to insure a vessel.

Karen Sack, Executive Director of the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance (ORRAA): “The insurance sector can be a key partner in disincentivizing and deterring IUU fishing which is unsustainable, dangerous and associated with crimes like people trafficking and indentured labour. ORRAA is working with Oceana, Global Fishing Watch, and TMT to help insurers do better due diligence on the vessels they insure to reduce their risk exposure. This policy wording is a crucial part of cutting off access to insurance for these vessels and, in so doing, closing the net on IUU fishing.”

Duncan Copeland, Executive Director of TMT: “There is no silver bullet that will solve IUU fishing, nor one actor that can make it happen. It requires a multi-pronged approach, from all those that have a role in the operations of a fishing vessel, to ensure that its fishing activities are compliant with regulations. That is why this step by the insurance industry is important – cutting off insurance to those vessels that are involved in IUU fishing activity is a strong deterrent to operators who may be inclined to disobey the rules. TMT, in partnership with Oceana, ORRAA and Global Fishing Watch, looks forward to continue to work with the insurance industry towards this goal”.

“This decision is a critical step in halting operations of illegal, unreported and unregulated vessels”, said Tony Long, chief executive officer of Global Fishing Watch. “The insurance industry faces a number of challenges when it comes to assessing IUU fishing risks and information gaps in fishing vessels. Global Fishing Watch remains committed to providing robust and credible data solutions that generate insights and inform the decision-making process.”

Service providers such as the maritime insurance sector have a key role to play in putting an end to IUU fishing. In addition to improving their due diligence by screening against the Combined IUU Fishing Vessel List or adopting the JHC clause, the insurance industry can also act by requiring that all eligible vessels that they insure have an IMO (International Maritime Organisation) number, by mandating consistent use of AIS (Automatic Identification System), and by verifying that vessels have the correct licenses and authorisations for their operations. Implementing checks such as these will help to reduce the provision of insurance services to illegal fishing vessels, dismantling support systems that they rely on to operate, thus preventing IUU fishing and protecting the vitality of marine life in our oceans.

Notes to editors:

  • Within the marine insurance sector, businesses have already started to improve their due diligence by screening new and existing clients against official RFMO lists of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels. Leading insurers have also signed on to the Oceana and UNEP FI landmark 2017 industry statement against pirate fishing.
  • Further guidance for businesses and authorities includes:

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