Saturday, Nov 01st

LATEST:
You are here: Home

Gulf estimates Gonzalo losses at between US $10 and $15 million

~ Business interruption could take largest hit ~

PHILIPSBURG--Gulf Insurances estimates that the total incurred losses from Hurricane Gonzalo will straddle between US $10 million and US $15 million.

St. Maarten Branch Manager Nadira Hellendoorn told The Daily Herald on Thursday that it will be difficult at this stage to put a figure as far as the total overall insured losses incurred. "However, on the basis of the Gulf experience for reported losses thus far, estimating our market share and assuming that all other insurance portfolios suffer around a similar probable maximum loss, then the total incurred insured loss could be in the vicinity of US $10 to US $15 million," Hellendoorn said.

When asked what areas the company felt most claims will go to and why she said she was not sure, she noted that from the company's review of losses thus far, commercial and homeowner's properties, including business interruption, could take the largest hit. "My understanding is that there are also some losses also with respect to marine hull claims."

She said there were policy conditions and deadlines with respect to notifying and reporting claims that, in most instances, are 14 days after the date of loss. The time in writing can be extended depending on company policy and special circumstances, which Gulf has done. She said there had been "very few" claims still coming in, but noted that Gulf anticipates that more than 95 per cent of claims have been reported thus far.

"So far, based on overall estimates received and anticipated, we expect total claims at approximately US $1.5 million. We have processed [notified, appointed adjuster's, etc. – Ed.] for approximately 90 claims thus far," she said. "Payout to clients started within the first couple days once estimates were received and adjustments concluded. Gulf Clients are very satisfied. With respect to those claims outstanding, the major keep-back is getting contractors to give clients estimates, especially for the more complex cases where buildings suffer major roof and or structural damages," she explained.

When asked whether premiums were expected to go up, she said based on the overall anticipated loss suffered from Gonzalo in St. Maarten, Gulf does not anticipate any major increase in rates, if any at all. "However, the hurricane season is not over and God forbid we have another loss in the region then reinsurers are certain to react and increase reinsurers' rates, especially from the period January 1, 2015. Once reinsurance rates go up, then insurers may have no choice, but to increase accordingly," she said.

She said residents should do like they did after Hurricanes Luis and Marilyn in the 1990s by retrofit and reconstruct roofs, etc. with hurricane straps and rebuild in general with hurricanes in mind such as using hurricane shutters, etc. "Also, they should always have quick contact with contractors to get estimates as soon as possible so that claims can be settled quickly before shortages and increased cost of building materials, etc.

"There is the annual threat of hurricanes in the region; residents and businessmen should always ensure that they are properly and adequately insured and prepared in the event of an even stronger hurricane, God forbid," she said.

RSA beneficiaries to be taxed 30 per cent on aid

MARIGOT--The Territorial Council passed a number of tax increases on Thursday that, although controversial and vigorously opposed by the Opposition and former President of the Territorial Council Alain Richardson, will bring in extra income for the Collectivité to execute essential projects.

Beneficiaries of the much-maligned social aid Revenu Solidarité Active (RSA), that has become a thorn in the side of the Collectivité due to its exorbitant cost will see a 30 per cent flat rate levy deducted from their compensation as of January 1, 2015. It applies to the RSA "Socle," a base- rate category of 3, 833 persons who have no professional income. Those in the RSA "Activité" category (some part-time income) are not taxed.

The measure amounts to an estimated saving for the Collectivité of 4.4 million euros per year, added to the 3.4 million euros compensated by the State each year. However, it still has to be approved by the Control de Legalité before it can be implemented.

In June this year, the Council voted for a reform of the RSA, a national social benefit, to make it more adaptable and affordable to St. Martin, but it is a long process. The reform will be done either by a law or decree authorising the Collectivité to take the measures changing how RSA can be applied for.

The State benefit assists persons who can prove they do not have enough money to live on. About nine per cent of the population claims RSA benefits, but it is a system open to abuse.

"We know for a fact that some people genuinely need the RSA because of their circumstances, but there are others who are claiming and working on the Dutch side, or sometimes they go back to their country to work, Santo Domingo for example, and some even have a business while still claiming," commented President Aline Hanson, who added Mayotte pays 50 per cent less RSA than France.

The number of beneficiaries claiming RSA rose by 80.7 per cent between 2010 and 2013, and now costs the Collectivité over 16 million euros per year (1.4 million euros per month) draining the operating budget and impeding economic development that could be done in other areas.

RSA accounts for 60 per cent of social expenses and 12 per cent of the Collectivité's total operating budget.

The RSA measure was voted 16 for, to three against and two abstentions.

Opposition Leader Daniel Gibbs was in Paris for Parliament's vote on the Overseas Budget 2015, but in a pre-emptive release ahead of the Council meeting he indicated the tax "means a single mother with two children receiving 1,000 euros gross monthly will now get 700 euros.

"Why must 4,000 households with no other resources than the RSA pay for the fraudsters?" he questioned. "Rather than taxing recipients of RSA, is it not better to set up a political control with cooperation of the Dutch side. The President argues the system is a failure because it does not encourage people to return to work, but where are the jobs? How are jobs going to be created on an island in crisis?"

Gibbs said this levy on the RSA is "socially dangerous and unfair" and falls under "legal absurdity."

Also voted through by the majority was an increase in the gasoline tax, from 0.6 euros cents to 0.12 euro cents per litre applied to the importers. This increase is expected to bring in an extra 1.7 million euros per year. It was noted the Dutch side has a far higher tax rate on gasoline, the equivalent of 22 euro cents per litre.

"There is no doubt gasoline is coming in from places like the Virgin Islands or South America and the importers and distributors are enjoying large profit margins," Hanson said. "There are places where you can get gas anywhere from 0.96 euro cents per litre to 1.25euro cents so we know something is going on there."

She added the tax increases were obligatory on the part of the Collectivité in order to conform to the terms laid out to pay back the loan from the Agence Française de Développement (AFD).

The third tax measure voted on was the turnover tax, Taxe Générale sur le Chiffres d'Affaires (TGCA). This was not an increase per se, but rather an extension of the tax to all service providers which was not the case before.

Businesses in the commerce sector such as supermarkets, clothing stores, boutiques, jewellery stores that were paying two per cent TGCA will now have to pay four per cent as of January 1, 2015. Revenue from this measure is expected to reap 2.7 million euros for the Collectivité.

The Council meeting was marked by several absentees; five from the majority party and four from the Opposition; however, their votes were cast by proxy.

Stop, Drop and Go campaign extended, supported by tip line

~ 50 firearms handed in on Dutch side ~

PHILIPSBURG--The Stop, Drop and Go campaign has been hailed as a success and will be extended to November 14, the Ministry of Justice announced Thursday, October 30. Adding to the campaign is an anonymous tip-line initiative with a reward system which launches today, where illegal firearm possession can be reported.

Former Lt. Governor of the Island Territory of St. Maarten Max Pandt gave in three firearms on Thursday, in the presence of Ministry and Police officials. Pandt said that the rifle handed in was used only once for hunting, another weapon was an old police pistol and the oldest, a revolver which belonged to his grandfather and was made in 1895. Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson thanked him for supporting the project.

Today would have been the last day that illegal firearm holders would be able to hand in their weapons voluntarily. The unexpected level of success as well as the passing of Hurricane Gonzalo were the main reasons behind the decision to extend.

Minister Richardson announced that "a tremendous number" of guns, 50 had been given in, and said that the extension would be worth it even if just one more is handed in. The Dutch side has supported the campaign through the media, speaking to schools and on the radio amongst other promotional efforts.

On the French side, there had been just six guns handed in, but they hoped that more would be during the extension. Préfet Philippe Chopin expressed that officials on both sides of the island have had a good partnership throughout the campaign.

Solicitor General Taco Stein said that the number of firearms handed in was more than he dreamed it would be, adding that the collection included all sorts of firearms, as well as a few pellet or airguns that could potentially be used to scare people.

Existing tip line number 9300 will be used for the anonymous tips, accessible on weekdays from 8:30am to 4:00pm, said Police Spokesperson Inspector Ricardo Henson. Public Prosecutor spokesperson Tineke Kamps added that there would be a reward system for firearms found through the tip line, with rewards ranging from NAf. 350 to 1,000 depending on the type of firearm found.

Many persons submitting the firearms were said to be happy to be able to get them out of the way. A few were in their early 30s, although the majority were older. Some of the firearms given in were also legal, but the owners did not want to hold on to them any longer.

Following the campaign, authorities on both sides of the island will clamp down on persons in possession of illegal firearms. Stiffer punishment will also be sought for persons found with illegal guns.

During the campaign period, illegal firearm holders can voluntarily take in their weapons between 8:30am and 4:30pm to the Attorney General's Office, on the third floor of Puerto del Sol building in Simpson Bay in Dutch St. Maarten, or at the Gendarmerie in French Quarter or Concordia in French St. Martin.

In a previous statement, spokesperson Kamps advised that persons wishing to submit a firearm should put said firearm into a brown paper bag and transport it in a plastic bag, with its bullets removed from the barrel.

Local, US, UK authorities to investigate plane crash

AIRPORT--The St. Maarten Civil Aviation Authority (SMCAA) will be leading an investigation into Wednesday's plane crash (see related story) with the help of both United Kingdom (UK) and United States (US) authorities, according to an official press release sent by the Department of Communication. SMCAA also has released preliminary details.

The release states that a Short SH36 aircraft operated by Skyway Airways departed from SXM Airport en route to San Juan on Wednesday, October 29, at 6:39pm. The airport's Control Tower lost contact with the aircraft shortly after takeoff, at 200 feet altitude during the initial climb and it no longer could be perceived on the radar.

Based on the information gathered by SMCAA, the aircraft crashed into the water just off the coast. Two pilots were on board the plane on departure. The body of one of them has been recovered, but the other is still missing, according to the release issued shortly before 9:00pm Thursday.

The SMCAA investigation into the accident's cause is in its preliminary stage and investigators from the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) will be travelling to St. Maarten to assist SMCAA in the ongoing investigation.

SMCAA will be leading the investigation because the accident occurred in the territory of St. Maarten. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) annex 13 Accident Investigation provides guidance on the role of the different states with regard to an aircraft accident investigation.

"The state of registry for the aircraft, the state in which the accident occurred and the state of manufacturer all have a role to play in conducting the investigation. The aircraft, Short SH36, was manufactured in the United Kingdom; as such the AAIB will assist with respect to this area of the investigation.

"The aircraft was registered in the United States of America and Skyway is a US FAA part 135 certified cargo operator; as such the NTSB and FAA involvement is also required," the release explains.

AAIB investigators will be arriving in St. Maarten on October 31 to assist the SMCAA with the investigation into the cause of this crash.

SMCAA is requesting that the public "please bear in mind that this can be a very lengthy process that can take some months before there are any definite answers on what caused this unfortunate accident."

If someone encounters debris in the coastal waters that they believe to be part of the plane, SMCAA requests that they call 545-4226. "Your cooperation in this investigation is very much appreciated."

Deceased pilot identified, co-pilot search continues

page3a139SIMPSON BAY--The body found after the plane crash on Wednesday night was identified on the scene as German national Eric Schnell (49), a reliable source confirms. Schnell was the pilot of the crashed plane; he was in possession of a United States (US) Green Card.

Despite searches continuing from around 6:00am Thursday, co-pilot Roberto Lopez, an American citizen from Puerto Rico, has not been located. Chances are slim that he still will be found.

An experienced former pilot who saw the debris said he believed the aircraft had lost large parts on impact. "If the co-pilot was strapped securely into his seat chances are that the remaining part of the plane would have sunk to the bottom of the sea with the co-pilot still in place," he said.

The sea floor in the area where the plane went down is known drop steeply to some 700 metres.

Technical problems

Unconfirmed reports stated that the girlfriend of one of the pilots has said that her partner told her he felt uneasy about flying the plane after its recent near miss with technical problems, when it nearly crashed into a SOL fuel tanker on landing two days earlier.

"This is a common situation in aviation," said the former pilot. "It was one of the reasons I left the profession. Companies often push pilots to take off in adverse circumstances so as not to lose any money."

The former pilot believes technical problems were to blame for the crash. "The plane was flying slowly at low altitude. This gives little time to manoeuvre out of any difficulties. Despite the bad weather, everything points to a technical problem," he said.

The FedEx office in St. Maarten stated that it was not authorised to comment on the incident, but provided a telephone number for the Head Office in Memphis, Tennessee. Spokesperson Scott Fiedler explained that the plane and its crew belonged to US company Skyway Enterprises based in Kissimmee, Florida.

Fiedler said in a statement, "FedEx is aware of reports that Skyway Enterprises Flight 7101 disappeared from radar shortly after takeoff on its way from St. Maarten to San Juan, Puerto Rico, last night. FedEx contracts with Skyway Enterprises for cargo shipments. Our first thoughts are for the safety of the crew on board."

An employee of Skyways Enterprises said there was no one present who was authorised to comment until Friday morning. However, The Daily Herald understands that the owners of the company have flown to St. Maarten and are speaking to the Department of Civil Aviation, Shipping and Maritime Affairs to assist with the investigation.

Searches

The Coast Guard and the Netherlands Royal Marines went back out to sea yesterday morning to search for Lopez. They were joined by a Customs boat from French St. Martin and by the St. Barths Sea Rescue. The Netherlands Royal Marines, who had sent out the same crew that found the deceased pilot Wednesday night, searched from around 6:00am to 7:30am. Only a few men were available from the Marines as the others were on a training session in Curaçao.

The Coast Guard, who picked up more debris from the sea, searched with one boat between 6:00am and 7:30am, after which they returned to drop off more debris before coming out with two boats until around 11:00am. Debris found previously included a number of brand new items of ladies' clothing with the price tags still attached.

It is not known until when the French boats continued, but the weather was once again very bad, with storm conditions, rough seas and low visibility.

Netherlands Royal Marines Commander Major Patrick Wokke, one of the marines who took Schnell's body back to shore, was also back searching early yesterday morning. He said, "I take my hat off to all those who were involved in the search."

In addition to the Coast Guard and the Marines, Sea Rescue volunteers were out at sea along with a number of civilian boats. There was also an American tourist with a radio who was in a high building and directed the ships to where the debris was, Wokke said.

"I would particularly like to mention the contribution of the Sea Rescue Foundation. They are ordinary citizens with full-time jobs who were out on sea in rough circumstances, trying to save lives. We should not take them for granted," he said.

Coast Guard

Coast Guard Head of Operations Wendell Thode said the Coast Guard had received a call on Wednesday around 6:55pm, stating that a Short 360 Cargo plane with registration N380MQ had disappeared off the radar. A search area some two to three miles off the coast was determined using coordinates and the course of the plane.

Thode said a Disney Cruise ship also had helped in the search for a few hours using a large searchlight. He said the search had had to be stopped around 1:00am due to the bad weather conditions. All visible debris had been removed by then, Thode said.

Thode praised all those involved in the search efforts.

"Cooperation was a key word in the search efforts," he said. "The Coast Guard on its own would not have been able to cover such a large area. Together we are strong. Of course the result was unfortunate, in that no one was found alive. However, the search progressed as well as it could have done in the bad circumstances. In a storm, the Sea Rescue, the Marines, members of the public, including a cruise ship, joined the Coast Guard.

"I take my hat off to everyone who risked their lives to help."

Page 2 of 1096