New sanctions regimes and compliance issues for marine insurers

By Christopher Jones, Director of Legal and Market Services, International Underwriting Association, IUMI Member Association,, and Daniel Martin, Partner, HFW, IUMI Professional Partner,

There has never been greater focus by sanctions authorities on the maritime sector, with increasing pressure on owners, operators and insurers to adopt ever more extensive due diligence and compliance checks in order to manage these changing and complex risks.

The US continues to impose new sanctions, including sanctions with extra-territorial effect, and there has been aggressive enforcement against the maritime sector, with both Cosco Dalian and Eagle Shipping feeling the effects. In addition, designation of shipowners and vessels in connection with US sanctions against Venezuela created headaches not only for them, but also their charterers, flag states, insurers and banks.

This is also an era of unprecedented change and flux: the UK must choose its own course from the end of the Transition Period on 1 January 2021 and there are already signs of the UK "going it alone" with its own human rights sanctions. The complex relationships between Russia and the US, UK and EU, as well as Sino-US tensions, are likely to continue through 2020 and 2021.

The burdens on insurers continue to evolve: in May 2020 the US authorities published guidance (by way of a Sanctions Advisory) which aimed to reshape all aspects of maritime industry behaviour and touches upon fundamental issues for our community – including AIS manipulation, know your customer, supply chain risk, information sharing with counterparties and the recommended use of insurance clauses. In July 2020 the UK sanctions regulator, OFSI, followed suit.

Insurers operating a step removed from the underlying trade need to navigate these complexities in a risk-based and proportionate manner.  But what does that mean in light of recent developments?

Reviewing existing compliance programmes in light of the guidance is clearly necessary. Considering whether and how to detect and address AIS manipulation in the insurance policy is a more nuanced issue. Sanctions authorities would like to see continuous checking of all insured vessels’ AIS, but is this really practical? Greater information sharing on AIS manipulation and other sanctions issues – not only between industry stakeholders but, crucially, also between authorities and industry – is an obvious area where progress could be made.

The increased scrutiny on the maritime sector is here to stay. Pro-actively managing the underwriting, compliance and regulatory risks arising from international sanctions remains ever more important.