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AUCKLAND, New Zealand-A donated insurance policy will cover damage a Maori political activist caused to yachting's America's Cup.

Sun Alliance Insurance Ltd., the New Zealand operation of Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance Group P.L.C., has insured the America's Cup at no charge for the past two years.

The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in 1995 won the America's Cup, one of the world's oldest and most prestigious sporting trophies.

The squadron is responsible for the safekeeping of the cup until New Zealand hosts an America's Cup defense in 1999. It is only the second time in the cup's 150-year history that it has been held outside the United States. Australia held the cup from 1983 to 1987.

The cup, which is on display at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in Auckland, was badly damaged by a Maori protester March 14.

Benjamin Peri Nathan used a short-handled sledgehammer to smash the glass cabinet housing the cup and badly dent the midsection and neck of the cup. Maoris are the original Polynesian settlers of New Zealand and have been campaigning for land rights and ownership of the country.

Bill Crowley, managing director in Auckland for Sun Alliance, said it was too early to estimate damage costs, but he predicted the final claim would be "about half" the $500,000 New Zealand ($347,000) insured value. He said the insured value of the America's Cup was agreed between Sun Alliance and the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron when the cup was won in 1995.

"We believe it is a fair value, although this (the damage claim) will be a good test."

Mr. Crowley said he was unaware of previous insured values for the America's Cup.

He said Sun Alliance was one of the largest insurers of yachting vessels in New Zealand and donated the premium cost for insuring the America's Cup as a contribution to New Zealand yachting.

The policy still is legally binding even though no premium was paid by the insured, Mr. Crowley said. "We treat it as a normal claim." He said Sun Alliance insured the America's

Cup under a comprehensive all-risks policy.

"Although we didn't anticipate this type of event, we acknowledge there is a claim under the policy."

Mr. Crowley said there were initial fears that the America's Cup was damaged beyond repair.

However, photos of the damaged trophy cup have been sent to the London company that made the cup, crown jeweler Garrards, and the jeweler is confident it can be repaired, he said.

The cup soon will be sent to London for repairs, which are expected to take six to eight weeks.

Sun Alliance still is waiting for repair cost estimates from Garrards, according to Mr. Crowley.

The all-risks policy will cover the cost of transporting the America's Cup to London and back, plus all repair costs, he said.

Mr. Nathan was charged with criminal damage and trespass, and his case will be heard at the beginning of next month. The Royal New Zealand Yacht Club has said it will review its security procedures as a result of the attack.

Sarah Goddard contributed to this story.