Industry » Legal & Finance » MHG's Mark Bononi on Insurance Policies for Yacht Crew

MHG's Mark Bononi on Insurance Policies for Yacht Crew

From owners or captains choosing insurance plans for their crew to individuals looking for some personal medical cover, ensuring you have adequate insurance for all those working on board a superyacht is vital. And as one of the leading insurance brokers in the marine industry, MHG Insurance knows this better than anyone.

We spoke to the director of the MHG’s yacht division Mark Bononi to discuss everything from the different policies available and their strengths and limitations to how well you might be protected should you be suffering from COVID-19 or mental health issues.

Tell us a little about your background and how you came to work at MHG Insurance.

I’m originally from a small town in Illinois but I left about 16 years ago for Fort Lauderdale to escape the cold weather. I started my career as a pilot but transitioned into insurance when I joined MHG in 2005 where my focus was and continues to be on yacht crew insurance. My background as a pilot has definitely helped me relate to the nomadic lifestyle and challenges of yacht crew and I really enjoy what I do.

Where is your company based and in which countries do you operate?

MHG Insurance Brokers is headquartered in Fort Lauderdale and has offices in the Isle of Man, Hamburg and representation in the South of France.

What’s the scope of your insurance portfolio?

MHG introduced crew benefits to the yachting industry in 1997 and has since grown into a multi-disciplined marine insurance brokerage and adviser. MHG is now recognised for developing innovative crew insurance programs for the maritime industry such as crew medical insurance, disability income protection, personal accident, and life insurance. Additionally, we also advise US businesses on group health insurance for their employees and property and casualty insurance to protect their business.

How is the coronavirus impacting your business and if a crew member becomes unwell, to what extent are they covered by their existing policies?

We’re happy to report that MHG is functioning as close to normal as we can expect during these unusual times. The crew medical plans that we offer respond to the coronavirus differently, but most plans that were in place prior to the pandemic would provide coverage for treatment. For specifics, it’s always best to call us, refer to your policy wording or speak with the insurance company directly if a crew member has coverage questions.

Under normal circumstances, of all the policies you offer, which is the most common entry point for yacht crew?

Most of the younger crew will start with a basic crew medical policy. For crew that are a bit older or have a family or dependents at home, they sometimes will take up a life insurance plan as well.

Do you offer different types of cover as a package?  

Yes we do. The most common option is simply medical coverage, however a lot of vessels do opt to include dental and life insurance. Roughly 30% of our groups also purchase lost wages coverage for both temporary and permanent disabilities. 

Do management companies have a role in deciding the options for crew cover or is it down to the individual/captain/owner? 

I think it varies. There are some management companies that work with us exclusively while others work with other brokers as well. Occasionally owners, but more frequently captains, have some influence on which plan is selected.

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How do the owner’s obligations for crew insurance differ between commercial and private yachts?

If a yacht is registered as a commercial vessel, this is likely to mean that it is subject to MLC 2006 legislation. MLC requires the vessel owner to cover all medical care costs associated with the crew and must insure (or provide financial security) for permanent disability and death. This is definitely a broader obligation on the vessel owner as compared to a private yacht.

What are some common misconceptions among crew? 

The most common misconceptions are that ‘insurance is insurance’ and ‘the vessel owner will take care of me’.  There are so many different levels of coverage in crew insurance, that you really do have to read your coverage and ask a lot of questions to make sure you are covered for what you think you are covered for. As for the vessel owner, there is no doubt that there are many wonderful yacht owners out there that only want the best for their crew. Is yours one of them? Probably best not to find out after you are already sick or injured.

Regards crew medical cover, do most crew subscribe to the yacht’s policy or do some retain individual cover? 

We do have some crew that prefer to have their own crew medical policy as opposed to joining the group plan. It gives them more control over the benefits and allows them to take their plan with them if they decide to go to a different yacht. The downside is that general individual policies are not as comprehensive as group plans and sometimes they also cost more.

How do your group policies treat pre-existing conditions for new crew joining a boat?

It varies plan to plan. As a broker we work with several different insurance carriers and each addresses pre-existing conditions differently.

What tends to be the most common claim from crew?

Working on board yachts is physically demanding so we tend to see a lot of claims for back injuries, knees and shoulders which result in a high amount of orthopedic claims.

How portable are your medical policies - can an individual crew member continue a policy once they leave a boat and carry it forward to the next one 

For the most part, this is not readily available. There are some programs that offer the ability to keep the coverage temporarily and there are other plans that allow a transfer to an individual policy. Some do not offer any option at all.

If a crew member is covered by the yacht’s policy for accidents and sickness, are they also covered during time ashore, and while on leave?

You are referring to Protection & Indemnity Insurance, more commonly known as P&I. This type of insurance policy provides the owner with liability coverage surrounding the operation of the vessel which could include damage to the yacht and injuries to the crew and/or guests, among others. If a crew member were involved in an accident while ashore, this type of policy would only provide coverage if they were handling boat’s business, ie. picking up provisions for the yacht, having work done on the yacht, visiting the management company etc.

It is important to point out that P&I is liability coverage, not a crew benefits plan. Typically P&I would not provide coverage while on leave either. In most cases it’s preferable to have separate P&I and crew benefits as the crew benefits plan stands in front of the P&I plan, meaning it will pay first if there is a claim. Oftentimes the P&I insurance carrier will require a crew benefits plan to be in place.

Does this apply to crew on rotation?

Our group plans include cover while on rotation. As long as the yacht does not terminate the insurance for the crew member (or terminate their employment), they remain covered. 

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The mental health of superyacht crew is now receiving a lot of attention with industry insiders working to promote a culture shift and spread awareness of the help available to crew. To what extent is mental health covered in standard medical policies? 

Being away from home for months at a time and living and working in tight quarters coupled with working in a high stress environment can sometimes leave crew members feeling isolated with nowhere to turn. We still have a long way to go, but we’re happy to see that the industry is talking about the importance of good mental health and removing the stigma surrounding seeking help and treatment for mental health issues 

While all crew health policies handle mental health treatment differently, most provide it as standard coverage. Before seeking treatment, have a look at your policy wording or call your insurance broker or the insurance company for details. For crew members who do not have insurance or do not want to go through their insurance, there are online resources available that are specific to seafarers. The International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) have developed SeafarerHelp, a free, confidential, multilingual helpline for seafarers that is available 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. They can be reached at +44 20 7323 2737 or [email protected]. A portal designed specifically for yacht crew is in the works.

Do you collaborate with other providers who offer policies outside your own portfolio – I’m thinking specifically of private policies for social security following the French Decree? 

We have a provider within our portfolio that offers private cover which aligns with the French decree, so we do not have a need to collaborate with other providers in this case

What cover is provided/required for dayworkers, contractors and temporary staff during boat shows and events?

Typically this type of coverage (if offered) would be very limited and only cover for accidents. Sometimes the coverage is set up separate from the yacht group medical plan. 

Do you offer global policies for travel, medical and accident cover, or do the terms and rates vary too significantly between, for example, Europe and the US or further afield? 

We do offer global policies for all these and other scenarios. The cost can vary dramatically based on a number of factors, but definitely if the US is a destination, the cost will be higher than policies which do not include cover in the US.

Does the cost of medical cover vary according to the yacht’s cruising grounds?

Absolutely! Itinerary plays an important role in determining the cost of the plan. If a yacht is going to be spending a lot of time in the US or Caribbean, the cost of the plan will be higher compared to a yacht that doesn’t visit the US at all. This is primarily due to the high cost of healthcare in the US.

Are you seeing any trends that could impact the marine insurance market over the next 10 years? 

There are so many *current* factors impacting the marine insurance market that it almost seems folly to predict trends in the next 10 years. However, I think with a high degree of certainty we can expect to continuing increases in rates, continued adaptations in the scope of coverage as dictated by various legislation and no doubt continued progress toward self-servicing and user interface technology.

What would you change if you could? 

Misinformation is probably one of my biggest pet peeves. It is one of the things I would certainly change because it makes our industry look bad and it doesn’t do anything positive for the crews we are trying to serve and cover. It is one thing to market a product, but it is another thing to misrepresent the capabilities of that product or the capabilities of competing products. I have been doing this for a long time now and my best advice is to do your homework and ask lots of questions.

Who has most inspired you in your career so far? 

Andrew Dudzinski and John Haagensen have definitely been an inspiration. They started this company almost 30 years ago and have built MHG into the powerhouse that it is today. Both of them came together, Andrew with a background in expat health insurance and John a seafarer, and recognised the need for crew health benefits for cruise ship crew. Several years later, crew benefits were introduced to the yachting sector.

Their persistence and determination that seafarers should enjoy the same benefits that we shoreside have is largely responsible for the wide use of benefits across the marine industry. Their contribution to the marine industry is immense, bringing insurance to hundreds of thousands of seafarers and their families. It’s certainly admirable and inspiring.

What’s your motto?

Making the industry a better place to work and live.

Images: MHG, Pixabay 

 


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