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Dubai blaze triggers overdue examination of home insurance

The Tamweel Tower blaze seems to have been a defining moment for the insurance industry, Frank Kane writes.

From the balcony of my 44th floor apartment in Dubai Marina, I can still see, just a couple of hundred metres away, the smoke-blackened facade of Tamweel Tower.

The 34-storey residential block went up in flames on November 18, and I had a ringside view of the horror as it unfolded. Thankfully, there were no fatalities, but at the time it seemed inevitable that somebody must have been badly hurt, or worse, in the inferno that raged throughout the night in the Jumeirah Lakes Towers development.

Lights are slowly coming back on in the tower, with the bottom half of the building looking fairly well occupied once more. But the upper half is still mostly dark at night.

For residents and owners who lost their apartments and possessions in the blaze, it was of course a tragedy. But one industry is rubbing its hands in glee at the potential business coming its way. I refer, of course, to the insurers.

Insurance, especially home insurance, is a concept that has never really caught on in the Middle East. I know executives in the business who have for years been banging their heads against the walls of cultural reluctance, bureaucratic obstruction and market indifference.

But the Tamweel blaze seems to have been an industry-defining moment. Insurers report a dramatic rise in inquiries.

Especially galling for victims of the blaze, many of whom are still living in temporary accommodation, is to discover that landlords' insurance does not cover tenants' costs, whether for replacement of valuables or the big hotel bills that some families have stacked up over the past couple of weeks.

The lessons are clear: get a good policy from a recognised, preferably international, insurer; and peruse its detail with a fine toothcomb.

***

Roman Abramovich, the Russian owner of Chelsea Football Club in London, is seldom seen in the guise of peacemaker.

After the sacking of his Champions League-winning manager Roberto di Matteo and replacement by the man-the-fans-love-to-hate Rafa Benitez, his reputation is at an all-time low with Chelsea fans, who see him as a capricious autocrat who fires good employees on a whim.

But what else did they expect from an oligarch who made his fortune in the "wild east"?

In Russia, however, he has just emerged as the voice of sanity on one of the country's longest-running and most damaging corporate feuds. Mr Abramovich has intervened in the bitter dispute between two oligarchs, Vladimir Potanin and Oleg Deripaska, over ownership of the mining giant Norilsk. For the time being, the warring plutocrats will cease all legal action, chiefly a high-cost confrontation in the London courts.

Mr Abramovich gets a "fee" of 7.3 per cent of Norilsk for his diplomatic efforts. For a man who usually gets his way and who has retained close contacts with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, this could be just the beginning. It's entirely possible Mr Abramovich will eventually add Norilsk to his multibillion-dollar empire.

If he can calm the troubled waters at Chelsea, he will have really shown a new talent for reconciliation. But I doubt he will succeed.

***

Overheard in the Goldman Sachs elevator: "China is the only country that gets to have towns in just about every city in the world".

fkane@thenational.ae

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