Sailors bound for the orca interaction hotspots of the Strait of Gibraltar and Iberian Peninsula can feel reassured that their insurance cover will not be in jeopardy.
Since the launch of its orca project in June 2022, the Cruising Association (CA) has received 154 reports of interactions – mainly bumping or ramming the hulls of small yachts and damaging rudders.
The hotspots follow the migration of tuna exiting the Mediterranean from the Strait of Gibraltar and heading West and North around the Iberian Peninsula.
Of these ‘eventful passages‘, 38 yachts (24.7%) required extensive repair, 59 (38.3%) needed moderate repair, 12 yachts (7.8%) minor repair and 45 (29.2%) did not require repair. Some 33 yachts required a tow (21.7%) while 119 (78.3%) did not.
This compared to 326 ‘uneventful passages’, of which 11 yachts saw orcas, the remainder did not.
Since 2020, a particular pod of orca have been consistently interacting with yachts in the Strait of Gibraltar and Iberian Peninsula; four boats have been sunk.
The most recent happened on the 31 October when a group of orca damaged the rudder of a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 449 during a 45-minute interaction in the Strait of Gibraltar, causing major damage; the vessel began taking on water. The yacht belonged to the Polish charter company, Morskie Mile.
The skipper and crew, along with the emergency services, including the Moroccan Navy, tried to bring the boat into the port of Tanger-Med, but the vessel sank near the port’s entrance.
None of the crew were injured.
The Cruising Association has formed a collaboration with Grupo Trabajo Orca Atlantica (GTOA), a group of Spanish and Portuguese scientists. After three years of study, scientists still do not know why around 15 orcas from a population of less than 50 are displaying this behaviour, and legal means of deterring or minimising orca interactions are required.
However, insurance companies contacted by PBO have confirmed that there are currently no clauses being introduced to deter sailors from travelling off the coast of Spain and Portugal.
George Beevor, yacht manager at Stoneways Marine said: “If a boat is sailing in a cruising area covered by their policy, they would be insured. Certainly, at Stoneways we have no intention of excluding a fairly well-established peril of the sea such as collision with a mammal.
“In addition, our cover offers repatriation cover after such an incident as well as mental health support. Over time some insurers may increase premiums for the cruising areas where increased claims are being experienced but we have no plans at the moment to reduce our exposure to Atlantic Waters of Portugal and Spain where the bulk of these incidents seem to have occurred.”
A Royal Yachting Association (RYA) spokesperson said: “We’re not aware of the provisions or exclusions of other marine insurance companies, but Bishop Skinner Marine has worked in partnership with the RYA for over 30 years to offer specialist marine insurance to our members.
“They have confirmed to us that Orca damage is covered under the standard policy with no exclusions. The RYA’s legal team would of course recommend that it is prudent for individuals to check their own policy to ensure it does the same if they are not covered with a standard policy from Bishop Skinner Marine.
“The RYA is continuing to monitor this issue, and you can view the current Orca guidance on our website.”
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Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to sail single-handed non-stop around the globe, is amongst the most high profile of sailors to report an interaction with orcas.
His Farr 56 Sanjula was damaged during an encounter with a pod of orca “barging the rudder” in November 2022, off the Spanish coast of Cape Finisterre, breaking a steering connecting rod before losing interest. Emergency steering had to be rigged so Sir Robin and crew could sail on to Vigo for repairs.
A spokesman for Haven Knox-Johnston boat insurance, founded by Sir Robin’s brother Chris, said: “We have currently had no issues – apart from RK-J. The All Weather policy does offer cover if a vessel is attacked by an orca.”
Visit the CA’s new research library on orca interactions at www.theca.org.uk/orcas/interaction-deterrent-library
NB: This story was updated to include details of the most recent sinking of a yacht by orca, which happened on 31 October 2023.