By STEVE YAHN, who has been a reporter and editor for national publications.
The family of slain photojournalist Remi Ochlik, 28, will be compensated, thanks to a unique alliance between the not-for-profit Reporters Without Borders and Quebec-based broker APRIL International Canada.
Ochlik died Feb. 22 along with legendary foreign correspondent Marie Colvin when they were hit by rocket fire while reporting in the embattled Syrian city of Homs. The two were initially buried in a garden in Homs, but after extensive negotiations between the Syrian government and the French Government, assisted by APRIL International Canada, the bodies of Ochlik and Colvin were sent to Paris at the end of February. Colvin's body was sent to her family in the United States on March 6th.
Ochlik was posthumously awarded a full range of insurance benefits as a result of his policy with APRIL International Canada, which requires that participants be members of Reporters Without Borders.
It could not be immediately determined if Colvin had insurance coverage, although officials at APRIL International Canada said she did not have coverage through that organization.
"Remi's family will be paid a lump sum for death and dismemberment coverage," said Samuel Normand, head of operations at APRIL International Canada, a brokerage which finds insurers but handles a lot of the administrative work itself.
"But in cases like this, the main issue at the outset is repatriation efforts, with the costs being fully covered," Norman said. If necessary, APRIL International Canada will pay the cost of one family member or a professional friend to fly to a foreign country to identify a body and help with repatriation.
Other major coverages provided to Ochlik and others by APRIL International Canada include full health coverage; hospitalization, prescription drugs and outpatient treatments; dental and war risk coverage (the consequence of a riot or act of terrorism).
Despite the dangers to correspondents in war zones, insurance is available for them and it doesn't matter if they are freelancing or on staff with a major media outlet.
Other major players in this arena include: Escapade, a member of APRIL International Canada; Petersen International Underwriters in Valencia, Calif., a coverholder at Lloyd's of London which has written hundreds of policies for journalists in war zones; Chartis, which has a robust division in this area; ACE Group; AXA; Clement International; London-based Bellwood Prestbury; TravelInsuranceCenter.com; and Lloyd's.
The cost of these policies runs high, especially these days given that 61 foreign correspondents were killed in the line of duty in 2011, according to Reporters Without Borders.
The cost of a one-month accidental death and dismemberment policy in Syria can range from $600 to $1,500 or higher depending on the degree of danger a journalist is determined to be in, said Dan Drennen, director of sales and marketing at Omaha-based TravelInsuranceCenter.com, a travel insurance aggregator experienced in helping insure individuals in danger zones.
Such a policy also comes with emergency medical evacuation, Drennen said.
The payout for such a policy, if insured specifically for reporting in Syria, would be approximately $1 million, Drennen said.
In the case of Syria, "there's a swing in the cost pendulum every day depending on the level of risk assigned by underwriters," he added.
Coverage usually begins with a correspondent's camera, but getting coverage for expensive equipment can be quite tricky, said Tim Prifti at RJ Kiln, a Lloyd's syndicate which offers accident and health insurance for correspondents who work in war zones.
If you're going to take an expensive camera into an exposed zone it's likely to get scratched, dropped or left behind if a correspondent has to vacate a position in a hurry, so it could be very difficult to get proper coverage, Prifti said in the current issue of Lloyd's Market publication.
But damaged equipment is usually the least of a foreign correspondent's problems, Prifti said. The key cover needed is accident and health, which covers death, disability and income replacement. Like others, Prifti noted that emergency medical expenses cover is critical, because local medical facilities in hostile countries often are inferior or nonexistent.
"Medevac, which provides a 24-hour assistance telephone number that you can call, is a crucial element of the cover," added Prifti. "If you are injured or taken to a potentially hazardous location an air ambulance will transport you to the nearest appropriate medical facility for treatment."
In the case of the APRIL International Canada program, the firm and its insurers not only arrange for evacuation of persons covered by its plan but it will allow wounded journalists who are not members of its plan to participate on repatriation flights as well.
"That is happening in Syria right now," Normand said. Normand's group is also trying to fly some wounded journalists out of the country.
In the case of journalists not covered by APRIL International Canada and its insurers, repatriation costs are borne by the employers or families of those journalists.
Since the Tunisian Revolution, Normand observed that the number of requests for APRIL International Canada's insurance plans are on the rise.
"When a dramatic event like (Ochlik and Colvin being killed) occurs, I always receive a lot of calls, mainly from reporters who are already there," said Normand. "They always underestimate their exposure to risk.
"Moreover, many reporters think they don't need insurance outside hot spots when the revolution is over," Normand added. "For instance, some reporters told me they don't need even a single medical coverage or cover for a single car accident. That is a mistake."
Of course plenty of those freelance reporters do understand the value of insurance but simply can't afford it.
"This type of insurance is especially expensive for the journalist operating on a freelance basis," Drennen said. "There's no way around paying up for that kind of insurance."
However, that does not stop the freelance foreign correspondent in search of fame and glory, many of whom are out to make a name for themselves for the first time.
But 36-year-old Spanish freelance war correspondent Mikel Ayestaran is prudent when it comes to insurance protection.
Ayestaran?who works in Tehran and Afghanistan primarily for ABC or ETB and Basque TV, both based in Spain?said: "I work in very risky zones and I especially want to have support for my family in case something happens to me. But of course I myself feel better knowing that I have these insurance facilities in place."
Ayestaran, in an e-mail exchange with Risk & Insurance®, said he has a global insurance policy that covers him wherever he goes. "I cover hard news so my policies are not long, from two weeks to one month maximum," he said. "For that I pay 600 euros ($800) per month."
For an individual policy from February 28 to March 13, for example, Ayestaran's medical expenses are covered up to $1 million, with 100 percent co-insurance, emergency dental treatment up to $2,000 in case of accident, and accidental death and dismemberment at $100,000.
Ayestaran's 24-page policy is the result of the joint venture between Reporters Without Borders and APRIL International Canada, underwritten by AXA. "The coverage is very flexible and Samuel (Normand) is incredibly fast," Ayestaran said. "As a breaking news reporter, I need an insurance policy exactly like this. I just take a plane and I go."
One way uninsured freelancers can help protect themselves is by taking advantage of safety training programs offered by several nonprofit organizations, like that offered by the Rory Peck Trust. The London-based organization provides foreign correspondents with safety training and emergency hotlines and lets them borrow "PRESS"-emblazoned bulletproof vests and helmets.
In addition to its safety training and support, the Rory Trust gives out 90 grants to freelancers or their families around the world annually for those in need because of death, injury, imprisonment or kidnapping, or because they're hiding in exile as a result of their work.
Likewise, Reporters Without Borders provides safety training.
Drennen and others said they have seen an increase in government contractors and businesses operating overseas in danger zones turning to this type of insurance coverage, especially since the Arab Spring.
April 13, 2012
Copyright 2012© LRP Publications