Mr. Broerse files a claim with his boat insurer: rusting through of rafters and hull due to a float pump not working. This is just the beginning of the story….
After Mr. Broerse’s claim, the insurer had an assessment carried out. This revealed the following: in the corridor under the fore and aft sections of the ship, there was a steel collector for the drainage water from the shower area, originally containing a float pump with a separate float. Broerse found, however, that the float pump was starting too often and he had come up with an alternative solution. He had removed the original pump from the collection tank and placed it in the bilge area. In addition, he now allowed the shower drain water to flow into the bilge area instead of the collection tank. All this happened about five years before the damage report. At some point Broerse smelled a musty odor and dismantled the floor. There was a lot of water in the bilge from the shower and the pump’s float appeared to be defective. Apparently, at some point in the past five years the float pump had broken down and the water was no longer being pumped away.
The steel ship’s surface in the bilge area appeared to be seriously corroded. It showed considerable corrosion because of the soap residue and according to the expert you could remove whole slices of rust with your hands. The plating was so corroded that it had completely rusted through and when the steel hull was knocked off, holes were made in the hull. The soapy water had also run into the box keel and aft and at the location of the heel/keg the plating had also rusted through. The insurer concluded that the damage had been caused by gradual impact, which is excluded by the policy conditions, and rejected the claim.
Broerse did not leave it at that and called in his legal assistance insurance. They argued that Broerse had maintained his boat very well since the beginning of the purchase, and that he could be confident that moving the float pump would not have an adverse effect on the boat. Moreover, inspection of the float pump would not fall under the obligation of maintenance, and certainly not when the shower is not in use. Finally, the legal expenses insurer argued that Broerse, as a layman, did not know and did not need to know that soapy water could damage the ship’s hull. The insurer rejected these arguments and stated that it is a fact of general knowledge that the combination of water and oxygen has a corrosive effect on steel. When soap is also added to this, it actually exacerbates the corrosion process.
Broerse wanted a contra-expert opinion. The contra-expert confirmed that the corrosion process had been accelerated by the lye contained in the soap. However, he also noted that Broerse, as the owner, was responsible for his property and that if he had looked under the floor earlier, he would have seen the damage coming sooner. Although the surveyor was sympathetic to the contention that Broerse could not have known that soap was so aggressive, he did continue to find it strange and culpable that he allowed the shower drain and the drain water to run into his boat like that. A procedure followed. The insurer argued that by not looking in the bilge space and/or checking the float pump for five years, the insured had seriously neglected his duty of care. The insurer also argued that Broerse had changed the properties of the vessel, with apparently dramatic consequences, on his own and without consulting an expert. In doing so, he had forfeited his right to compensation. After all, the insurer had been deprived of the opportunity to accept or revise the changed insured risk.
The verdict of the court was clear and unambiguous: “… it is of the opinion that in Broerse’s case there has been insufficient care for maintenance of the ship. It further considers that in any event there has been a gradual process, the corrosion, which falls within the exclusion of wear and tear. I cannot regard that view as incorrect or incomprehensible. After all, Broerse did not carry out an inspection for five years, after the change in the shower water drain that he himself had made, whether the change did not lead to problems under the floor. Moreover, there are good grounds for considering corrosion as wear and tear.” Thus, the insurer was justified in rejecting the claim.
Tip: If you want to make a conversion to your vessel, always inform your insurer, get advice from professionals and do not blindly trust that the construction you have made will be sound. Trust is good, control is better!