A BRIEF HISTORY OF BRITANNIA
Britannia P&I Club began its life in 1855 when the world looked very different – France and England were at war with Russia in the Crimea, the explorer David Livingstone became the first European to see Victoria Falls, and the first print of The Daily Telegraph rolled off the press. Neither the Suez Canal nor the Cutty Sark had yet been built.
That year, John Riley, the youngest of fourteen children of a farming family from the East Riding of Yorkshire, and his cousin, Peter Tindall, who came from a family of shipowners and brokers, established the first Protection & Indemnity Club.
The Club only covered sailing ships, but in 1871, Peter Tindall, Riley & Co became managers of a club exclusively for iron steamships. The Club was named after Britannia – the mistress of the sea and the personification of the nation.
In the 1860s Tindall Riley & Co had offices in London and Sunderland. Britannia’s Committee had seven Directors, all of whom were British shipowners.
By 1876, the Britannia was writing three Classes of insurance which included hull and machinery risks (Class 1) and Freight risks (Class 2). Protection risks were known, as they still are today, as Class 3.
Legislation passed in the mid-nineteenth century prompted shipowners to realise that they faced potentially huge liabilities following a death resulting from negligence. This led to an expansion of the scope of the terms of the insurance, with the Britannia paying its first loss of life claim in 1870.
The advent of steamships would give rise to more serious collisions as a result of the inexperience of those operating the new vessels. Hull underwriters responded by restricting cover to 75% of the risk – Clubs offered protection for the remainder. In 1899, Britannia joined with five other Clubs in entering a Pooling Agreement to share claims in excess of £10,000.
The twentieth century brought with it new challenges and events, and direct consequences for the cover that P&I clubs offered. After the Second World War, the character of Britannia began to change significantly. Members were increasingly drawn from outside the UK, and the tonnage began to grow.
In April 1947, fire broke out aboard HMS Grandcamp while she was loading a cargo of ammonium nitrate in Texas City. An explosion and fire followed, killing 300 people and injuring more than 3,000. This horrific incident highlighted the potentially catastrophic exposure to risk for P&I clubs. Shortly afterwards, Britannia and the other clubs purchased reinsurance protection from Lloyds of London against any claim exceeding £250,000. The current reinsurance contract and overspill protection cover provides to the clubs of the International Group of up to USD $3 billion.
In the 1960s a Taiwanese vessel exploded causing considerable damage. The shipowner was only insured to the value of his ship. This alarmed shipowners in Hong Kong and Taiwan and they realised the need for adequate liability insurance. As a result, Britannia’s Asian Membership grew steadily from this point. Today, Asian shipowners account for around half of Britannia’s entered tonnage.
Since 1970, when the insured tonnage by Britannia was just under 11 million, the tonnage has grown to over 107 million, plus 17 million GT of chartered tonnage.
John Riley and the shipowners who formed the first Club – over 150 years ago – could not have foreseen how successful the P&I concept would become. In a rapidly changing and competitive world, Britannia continues to provide a service that distinguishes itself from ordinary commercial insurers.
Britannia remains one of the leading clubs in the international group, by providing exceptional standards of service to its quality Members, based on their core value of mutuality combined with commercial strength.