Speakers at Savoy dinner praise resilience of Association of Average Adjusters

After a break of two years, the Association of Average Adjusters triumphantly resumed hosting one of the most celebrated events in the global marine and legal calendar – the annual black-tie dinner at London’s Savoy Hotel. The Association proved itself to be in robust health, overcoming the disappointment of pandemic cancellations including what was to have been the annual gathering during 2020, its 150th anniversary year.

Throughout that interlude of ‘virtual’ activity, practitioners remained undaunted, it was clear from the confident tone of more than 200 adjusters, underwriters, insurance brokers, members of the legal profession and representatives of the London and international shipping community who dined on May 12, 2022, in the illustrious setting of the hotel’s Lancaster Ballroom.

Michiel Starmans, chairman for the 2020-2022 term, had earlier in the day at the Association’s annual conference reviewed the status of the ancient principle of General Average and talked about “our Back to the Future GA experience” He had called for the need to look ahead, and heightened awareness of what levies and charges the shipping industry would face resulting from proposed European legislation and IMO targets for emission reduction.

The two speakers at the evening dinner stressed how the sector had acquitted itself well throughout the pandemic disruptions and highlighted that the expertise of average adjusters would continue to be of great value.

Proposing a toast to the Bench, legal profession, guests and subscribers, Joseph Shead, a Fellow of the Association and a senior average adjuster with Richards Hogg Lindley, said that in doing so he was taking up a role he had been assigned in 2020 but was unable to do so because that year’s annual dinner was cancelled.

Now, he said, “after a couple of years of lockdowns and facemasks, it is a joy to see 200-plus people from the marine insurance industry gathered in one room.” Despite the various restrictions on meeting up, the industry had continued to perform well, greatly assisted by online platforms as a business tool. “Primarily this technology has enabled us to stay connected and operate as if all was normal in the world despite the pandemic.” He quipped: ““It is in fact quite a relief to me to find that you all have actual bodies and are not limited to just the floating head and shoulders that I have seen on screen.”

Responding with a toast to the Association, Jolien Kruit, partner at Rotterdam law firm Van Traa, recalled the incident in March 2021, when the huge containership Ever Given stranded in the Suez Canal and her owners declared General Average. For several weeks, said Ms Kruit, General Average was “all over the place. It was a hot topic, that people were actually – briefly – interested in. Like many of you, I spoke with several journalists. One had done some homework and knew that the concept has ancient roots. He asked me to explain how it was possible that a concept that ‘had not been used for 2,000 years was suddenly dusted off’ and applied to 20,000 teu container vessels.”

Throughout its existence, the concept of General Average had shown its value again and again, said Ms Kruit. “The need for sharing the costs of a reasonable solution in time of danger in a uniform manner is timeless: a need for cooperation between the parties to an adventure, whether maritime or not, does not get outdated. In fact, the University of Exeter is currently involved in a research project on applying General Average principles as a basis for the new economy [sectors forging ahead aided by advanced technology].”

Ms Kruit insisted: “This is not so strange if we realise that the need for collaboration is now stronger than ever. We have woken up to the new reality of war in our lifetime in our part of the world. As humanity, we are facing a climate crisis that will impact all of us. In time of peril, we need to cooperate, find the best solution possible and share the consequences in everybody’s best interest.

“General Average Land, its inhabitants and the Association of Average Adjusters can be an example to the rest of the world and possibly play an important role, both in the transition and the new economy. I wish the Association of Average Adjusters many more years. I am confident that it will have a bright future if it continues to evolve by expanding with new horizons while sticking to its principles,” she declared.

The dinner event is steeped in a 140-year tradition (including the fact that since 1967 it has almost every year been at the Savoy) but the 2022 occasion for the first time had a break for entertainment, which was provided by a comedy trio basing their act on operatic arias.

In addition to Mr Starmans and Ms Kruit, those at the top table included Joern Groninger, president of Verein Deutscher Dispacheure; Stefano Cavallo of Associazione Liquidatori di Avarie Marittime; Iain Henstridge of the Joint Hull Committee; Vibeke Kofoed of the Nordic Average Adjusters Association; Barbara Holland, president of the US Maritime Law Association; Andreas Bisbas, chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping insurance committee; Joseph Grasso, chairman of the Average Adjusters Association of USA and Canada; Jeremy Russell QC, arbitrator at 10 Fleet Street; Esteban Vivanco, president of the Association Mondiale de Dispacheurs; Nick Austin of the British Maritime Law Association; Sir Nigel Teare, chairman for 2022-23 of the Association of Average Adjusters and Honorary Fellow; Kiran Khosla of the International Chamber of Shipping; Richard Cornah, past chairman of the Association of Average Adjusters and Honorary Fellow; Burkhard Fischer, vice-chairman of the Association of Average Adjusters; and Roger Street, Honorary Fellow.

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