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October 2001 Vol. 16, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Travel Insurance in a Time of Terrorism

from the October, 2001 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Last June we published an article on travel insurance, in the wake of divers being kidnapped on Sipadan by Muslim terrorists and other incidents abroad. While the travel insurance policies may have undergone some revisions in the ensuing months, the thesis of the article is generally applicable and certainly timely. This is a synopsis of that piece.

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Mixed in with memories of dive trips is an image of tropical paradise, and generally speaking, the image tends to be a peaceful one. Periodically the image of Utopia has been shattered by crime and terrorist threats, but none so singularly directed at divers as the recent attack on Sipadan, when Abu Sayyaf terrorists invaded the quiet island and took a score of vacationing divers hostage. However, increased security measures on Sipadan have allowed dive travel to continue.

Despite the Suva coup that has left Fijis Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry a hostage, dive travel there reportedly hasnt skipped a beat, despite the State Departments request that U.S. citizens defer nonessential travel to the area. After an attempted coup in Honiara, the situation in the neighboring Solomon Islands is bloodier by far, with jungle fighting between ethnic groups reportedly leaving up to 100 dead. The State Department has issued a warning to U.S. citizens to defer travel to the Solomons.

Add to the formula the rapes, car hijackings, and armed robberies that plague Papua New Guineas Port Moresby, bombings and grenade attacks in parks, museums, the airport in Manila, violence in the Philippine islands of Mindanao, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Jolo, and continuing strife in parts of Indonesia, the sum total is definitely an inhospitable Pacific dive travel environment. Short of shying away from Pacific destinations altogether, what alternatives do divers have to protect their dive trip investment?

It seems like exactly the sorts of problems trip cancellation insurance was designed for, but look carefully before deciding that a trip cancellation policy will help you hold on to your hard-earned travel dollars. Most companies have strict requirements about the type of incidents covered under their policies, and often the unrest described above would not qualify for reimbursement.

Access America (800-729-6021; www.accessamerica.com ) , CSA (800-873-9855; www.travelsecure.com), and TravelSafe (888-885-7233; www.travelsafe.com) differentiate between terrorist incidents and episodes of civil unrest, which include coups, riots, and uprisings. Surprisingly, isolated terrorist incidents, such as the Sipadan kidnapping, would be covered under their policies, while civil unrest would not. Most companies require that the event be unforeseen to qualify for coverage, which means that the destinations listed above, where civil unrest is ongoing, would not be covered. And, even if you have purchased insurance for a trip to an area that has had no prior disturbances and a problem subsequently develops that leads you to cancel the trip, theres no guarantee that the policy will reimburse you for trip costs. The decision of whether an incident qualifies as a terrorist one rests with the insurer.

Access America requires that a terrorist attack must have occurred within ten days of arrival to be covered, and the decision of whether an attack is a terrorist incident rests with its underwriters. Travel Guard (877-216-4885; www.travel-guard.com) covers for unforeseen events only (i.e., the policy must have been purchased before the initial event), and payment is made only if the State Department has issued a warning. CSA covers only cancellations due to events that have occurred within thirty days that its underwriters determine are terrorist incidents, while TravelSafe covers only cancellations due to unforeseen terrorist incidents in which the airline or other carrier refuses to make the trip.

How does all this stack up in terms of travel protection? If a band of armed guerrillas are guests at a resort, its hardly reasonable to expect insured divers to make the trip a mere eleven days later. Making the criterion for a safe journey an airlines willingness to fly into a destination seems equally unfair. Touching down at the airport is one thing, but diving near a terrorist camp is another.

Obviously, trip insurance is no panacea. Nor is it a substitute for researching your destination beforehand. If youd like to find out about problems ranging from terrorism to volcanic eruption anywhere on the globe, the State Departments website at http://travel.state.gov is a great place to start investigating. And, keep in mind this observation by reader Samuel Johnson from San Francisco, CA: Read the fine print. The big print giveth, but the little print taketh away.

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