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BANGKOK—Recent anti-government demonstrations left considerable damage to commercial properties in Bangkok, but companies without terrorism coverage may be unable to tap insurance for their property losses.
After troops dispersed thousands of protesters from the one square mile area they had occupied in the city center, many fanned out throughout the municipality of 9 million people and torched buildings. The result was an estimated $1.2 billion in property damage, according to Thailand's National Economic and Social Development Board.
While damage to government buildings and infrastructure was significant, the private sector was hit harder as rioters focused on local enterprises owned by wealthy families or companies seen as supporting the government. Foreign operations were not targeted and most are factories in industrial zones outside Bangkok.
The demonstrators, mostly poor individuals from the provinces loyal to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra ousted in a 2006 coup, called for the government to step down and hold new elections.
In March, the protesters moved in and most of the shopping malls, nearby hotels and businesses shut their doors. When some 20,000 troops confronted the protesters on May 15, all businesses in the area were shut down.
The most high-profile structure hit during the riots was Central World, a shopping center that's larger than the Mall of America and the second-largest mall in Asia. The cost of rebuilding the gutted mall is expected to be less than 10 billion Thai baht ($308.4 million), said Naris Cheyklin, chief financial officer of Central Pattana P.L.C., which owns the property.
Mr. Cheyklin said the industrial risk cover limits on the mall, including business interruption, are $400 billion. It had another $100 million in riot and terrorism cover, he said and declined to name the insurer.
The anchor tenant in the mall was the Zen department store, also owned by Central Pattana. The seven-story building was burned and has to be rebuilt at a cost of 10 billion baht, Mr. Cheyklin said. During the expected six-month renovation, he said the store would lose about $40 million in sales, which he said would be covered by its business interruption policy.
“The damage would have been less if our sprinkler system would have functioned, but the city had turned off all electricity and water in the area before the crackdown,” Mr. Cheyklin said.
Several hotels near the epicenter of the protests closed in mid-April, including the Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok and Courtyard by Marriott Bangkok, both owned by Erawan Group P.L.C. Kamonwan Wipulakorn, Erawan's CFO in Bangkok, said the facilities sustained only minor property damage during the riots, but she estimated business interruption losses at $4.6 million.
Ms. Kamonwan said Erawan Group has all-risks coverage up to 15 billion baht ($4.6 million) for its 12 hotels, five of which are located in Bangkok. The group also has business interruption coverage limits of 5 billion baht ($154.2 million) as well as terrorism coverage up to $30 million. “We, like many businesses, are waiting for the government to confirm what kind of incident this is. If it's riot, our all-risk policy will cover it. If it's terrorism, we are covered, too,” she said.
“When you have a major catastrophic event like this, the insurance market is always sitting on the fence. Nobody wants to make a call on the description of the event. The insurers have their view, the reinsurers have their own view and regulators have their own view,” said Robin Armstrong, CEO of Marsh PB Co. Ltd., the Thai unit of Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc. “It's not good if one insurer says it's terrorism and another says it's rebellion.”
“At this point, we're not quite certain which one it is,” said Andrew Bentley, CEO of Aon Group (Thailand) Ltd. in Bangkok. “We are waiting for some kind of indication from the Thai government what to call these events for insurance purposes.”
The week after the protests, major property/casualty insurers met with the Thai regulator, the Office of Insurance Commission, to come to a unified conclusion of how to characterize the rioting. But the government already has labeled the riots as acts of terrorism, and has asked that all insurance companies cover any damage claims for the riots.
“But the problem is that if the insurance industry pays for those claims under their all-risks policies, insurers will have difficulty collecting from their reinsurers,” said Kevin Norman, general manager of QBE Insurance (Thailand) Co., Ltd. in Bangkok, a division of Australia-based QBE Insurance Group Ltd.
If it is deemed as terrorism, that's not good news for companies that only had property or industrial risk coverage and failed to purchase additional terrorism insurance.
“Most industrial risk policies will extend coverage to include riot and strikes and civil commotion, but will exclude political violence,” said Mr. Bentley.
Mr. Armstrong added that a political violence policy “will cover a number of different areas: strikes, riots, civil commotion, war, civil war, terrorism and coups.”
While business interruption usually requires damage to be triggered, Mr. Armstrong said there could be exceptions for hotels and malls that closed during the protests because it was difficult for customers to reach them.
“Claims are usually based on denial of access or loss of attraction,” he said. “If the property is not damaged but the business can't operate, that can be indemnified usually under the sublimits of the policy.”
During the two months of protests, local brokers advised clients to upgrade their coverage to include terrorism and political violence insurance.
“In some instances, we were arranging coverage a week prior to the arson events,” Mr. Bentley said. “The week before the lockdown, our office had 40 separate inquiries for terrorism and political violence coverage.”
Marsh also advised clients to implement business continuity management and crisis management programs.
Meanwhile, most multinationals were unaffected by the protests, except for FedEx Express Thailand, which was unable to deliver packages during the final week of the protest, said David Carden, managing director.
“We shut down deliveries in the area and held packages at our station,” Mr. Carden said. “We called customers and arranged to meet them at other locations or would ask them to come pick them up.”
Mr. Carden even personally delivered a parcel to a U.S. Embassy employee who lived near him. “That was the first delivery I've made in the 3 1/2 years I've been in Thailand and the first I've made in 10 years,” he said.