The 2017 Houston Marine Insurance Seminar showcases innovative approaches to risk in the wake of Harvey

By: Chelsea Crews, Senior Articles Editor (Sept. 21, 2017)

The 2017 Houston Marine Insurance Seminar was held this week in Houston, Texas. The Tulane Maritime Law Journal was there in force, with two current senior members volunteering on Monday and alumni present as attendees. The Seminar, organized by Marine Insurance Seminars, Inc.,[1] attracted more than 500 insurance brokers, underwriters, and attorneys from around the world.

While the attendees and organizers came from all over, there was, of course, a large contingent of Houstonians present. The sense of community and goodwill we’ve all observed from afar in the wake of Harvey was palpable and permeated the day’s events. The first order of business at the opening presentation on Monday was a reminder of the ongoing needs in the Houston community, accompanied by a list of suggested charities. Additionally, the Houston Marine Insurance Seminar made a one-time $100,000 donation to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Harvey’s aftermath also overlaid the speakers’ presentations on Monday. The first speaker, Jen Snyder of Wood Mackenzie, discussed changes in energy consumption in recent years, highlighting the rise of natural gas from shale relative to oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. Noting the Gulf’s strategic location, however, Snyder explained how the region will remain integral to U.S. energy exportation even as global consumption shifts to natural gas and renewables. Because ports like Houston process the bulk of the U.S.’s oil and natural gas exports, natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey will continue to threaten energy exports regardless of where the energy is produced.

Next, Joe Hughes, Chairman & CEO of the managers of the American Club, gave a presentation on the lack of mergers between P&I clubs, which was funny and informative throughout. He explained that the current structure is more democratic and beneficial to all involved than would be an arrangement with a small handful of ultra-powerful clubs. The listener left convinced that the apparently byzantine arrangement of P&I clubs and international groups in place is actually the most natural and sensible arrangement for protecting vessel interests and clubs.

While all the speakers were engaging, the most cutting-edge presentation was delivered by Suki Basi, Founder & Director of Russel Group. Basi described his company’s focus on ‘connected risk’ faced by cargo rather than the traditional notions of ‘static risk’ (risks faced in port) and ‘transit risk’ (risks faced during transport of cargo). Connected risk, in contrast to traditional notions of risk, focuses on “the ways in which political, environmental, supply chain, cyber and credit risks combine to cause financial, operational and reputational loss.”[2] To address these risks, Russell is developing an ambitious new product Basi described as the “largest data set I have ever worked with.” The project aims to aggregate data from, e.g., ports, to create a comprehensive picture of the connected risk facing underwriters at any given time. As cyber threats become increasingly prevalent, technology such as blockchain and real-time data aggregation tools will be crucial to effectively insuring the movement of cargo.

Unfortunately, TMLJ members could only be at the presentations given Monday morning, but a full slate of great speakers was scheduled for the afternoon and for Tuesday: George Fowler III (Fowler Rodriguez); Joe Leonard (U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, LLC); Ludovic Audoin (SIS Risk Management); Dean Thomas Galligan (LSU Law School); Captain Stephen Norman (Noble Denton DNV); Joe Lombardi (Oceantech); Pete Krouse (Braemar Adjusting Moderator); James Vavasour (MatthewsDaniel); Patrick N. Lohman (PrecisionHawk); Richard J. Nocella (Marsh USA); Sean T. Pribyl (Blank Rome, LLP); Josh Kirklin (Cobbs Allen); Joe Walsh (Clyde & Co.); and Chuck Talley (Kean Miller).

The value of the Houston Marine Insurance Seminar is hard to overstate. The speakers and panelists were all well versed on the contemporary drivers of risk in the marine insurance market. Notably, there seemed to be at least as many adjusters, brokers, and underwriters in attendance as there were maritime lawyers. As a result, the Seminar is a great annual opportunity to connect with non-lawyers in the industry as well as other maritime attorneys. Next year, we will be sure to attend the full conference. The 2018 Houston Marine Insurance Seminar will be held at the Westin Galleria again, September 16-18.

(If you can’t wait that long for another Houston maritime law conference, you’re in luck: the 26th Annual UT Law Admiralty and Maritime Law Conference will be held at South Texas College of Law Houston on September 29, 2017. We’ll see you there!)



[1] “Marine Insurance Seminars, Inc. is a Texas not for profit corporation and is recognized as a tax exempt public charity by the Internal Revenue Service providing continuing professional education credits for lawyers, insurance agents and brokers, and insurance adjusters.”