Insurers seek ship to house flood victims

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Insurers desperate to find accommodation for thousands of people made homeless by floods in the north-east have asked P&O, the ferry operator, to find a big ship in which to put families.

Norwich Union, the UK’s biggest insurer, said it was talking to P&O about obtaining a vessel to house more than 1,000 people whose homes have been damaged. Its request has sparked a frantic international shipping hunt. While the first priority is finding homes for people, insurers are also motivated by a desire to keep down costs.

The insurer said it was looking at “creative” solutions. P&O, though, described the request as “a long shot” and “a tall order”. At least one shipping broker said he had been approached about smaller accommodation barges that could be towed across the North Sea from Holland. The insurer is also looking at bringing in caravans for stricken families.

One P&O insider said the insurance industry appeared “desperate” to find accommodation for the families worst affected by the floods.

Ministers have been told that the impact of the floods has been 10 times that of the Carlisle floods in January 2005. About 50,000 people are estimated to have been affected and 27,000 claims made. The ferry operator said it was trying to locate a “floating hotel” that would fit in Hull’s dock basin. Such vessels have been used as accommodation for construction and energy workers, but also to house refugees and even prisoners.

One problem is understood to be availability. Ferries and cruise liners could be difficult to find because of the holiday season.Vessels would also have to be nearby because of the time taken to move them to Hull. Another snag is the relatively narrow lock entrance to the basin.

Norwich Union said it was confident P&O would find a suitable vessel. But the company may have to lower its sights.

Marcel Roelofs, a Netherlands-based shipping broker, said he was among brokers to have been contacted by P&O and had two vessels – floating barges with 150 rooms he described as “luxury worker accommodation” – that the company was considering. They would have to be transported across the North Sea.

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