The rise of the climate criminal as Belgium gets tough

For many years marine insurers have spoken out over the ongoing criminalisation of seafarers, following major losses.

The industry has long bemoaned the willingness to look to bring criminal prosecutions against masters whose vessels have impacted national waters or coastlines.

However this week comes a move that may well strike fear in many a liability underwriter’s heart.

Following the floods which devastated parts of Europe earlier this month prosecutors in the Belgian city of Liege have appointed a judge to lead an inquiry which will examine whether there is any evidence to charge anyone with involuntary manslaughter by failure of care or precaution.

It comes hot on the heels of a request by one of the country’s political parties for the creation of a parliamentary commission to investigate the flooding and whether there were failures in the efforts to protect life and property given that at present 37 people are known to have lost their lives in the country.

Prosecutors in Liege are to investigate the impact of the Vesdre river spilling over its banks with residents claiming human mishandling of river systems amplified the flooding and with it the damage.

Several specialists in hydrology have suggested that lowering the water level at the major Vesdre dam after forecasters issued weather warnings would have prevented a lot of flood damage in nearby towns.

The investigation opens a massive can of worms for insurers and any of their clients who are involved in the mitigation of climate change and its impact.

If successful it may create a precedent whereby firms which have a responsibility for the management of the impact of natural perils are now open to criminal charges.

Scientists in the UK this week warned that London’s infrastructure is not designed to meet the scale of rainfall that has seen two major flood events in a matter of months and across the world there are warnings of more extreme weather events.

It will leave liability underwriters with plenty to think about if prosecutors seek to apportion blame for fatalities and losses due to climate change.

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