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STOCKHOLM -- Swiss insurance giant Zurich Insurance Group has become Sweden's largest marine insurer following its acquisition early this month of the commercial insurance division of Trygg-Hansa A.B.

Zurich's purchase of the Industrial & Marine Insurance Portfolio division of Trygg-Hansa, which is owned by Swedish bank Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken, is the Swiss-based insurer's first major acquisition in the Nordic region. Following approval last month by Swedish regulators, the deal was completed July 2.

The Industrial & Marine Insurance division, Sweden's largest marine insurer, underwrites midsize and large property/casualty risks, such as industrial property, marine cargo and offshore oil platforms. Last year, the division reported a premium volume of 1.3 billion Swedish kronor ($160.3 million).

Until now, Zurich has had a modest market share in the Nordic region. The Swiss insurer posted a 1997 premium volume of 560 million Swedish kronor ($69 million) in the region, most of which came from Sweden. The recent acquisition will make Zurich the region's second-largest marine insurer, behind Norway's Storebrand ASA.

Although neither Zurich nor S-E-Banken disclosed the purchase price, recent acquisitions in the region have been valued at about one and half times the acquired company's premium volume.

The new Zurich unit, which will be named Zurich Forsakring Sverine, will be based in Stockholm and is expected to start underwriting by the beginning of September.

The purchase includes six Industrial & Marine Insurance Portfolio subsidiaries and will give Zurich branch offices in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Although Zurich is a licensed insurer in Sweden, it did not have a formal branch in the country. Zurich has had a representative office in Stockholm since the early 1990s.

"We needed to undertake a major investment in Scandinavia, and the deal makes perfect sense. With the acquisition, Zurich is now an important player in Sweden, as well as in the rest of the Nordic region and the Baltic Sea area," Zurich Chief Executive Officer Rolf Hueppi said at a press conference.

The Scandinavian market presents many challenges and advantages, he said. "Financial services and marketing are at the cutting edge in Sweden, especially from a technology perspective."

Lars H. Thunell, group CEO of S-E-Banken, also said at the press conference: "The sale is highly positive from our position. Although the unit sold to Zurich is and has been profitable, it does not form part of our core business, and our focus on the savings market. In contrast to the rest of our non-life business, the synergy potential with S-E-Banken's other activities is limited."

Trygg-Hansa will concentrate on life business and smaller non-life risks.