Substantial material damage can be sustained during interactions between boats and orcas, and the resulting damage ought to be covered by CASCO boat insurance
When we think about damage to a vessel, the first things that come to mind are theft, break-ins, fire, boat collisions or damage to various parts of the ship. However, in this article, we’d like to talk about a new and specific occurrence, which is orcas attacking boats.
In the summer of 2020, the first case of orcas targeting vessels was documented in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Spain, and the incidents have since continued. More specifically, some 40 adult orcas live near the Strait of Gibraltar, and some of them interact with boats in incidents described by people as ‘attacks’. However, scientists tend to refrain from qualifying their behaviour as aggressive. A more likely explanation is that orca calves approach vessels, play with sailboats and fishing boats, push tenders from the side, and even interact with catamarans.
The orcas remain in the area during spring and summer, feeding exclusively on tuna, and in autumn, they migrate north, closer to the Iberian coast. They usually approach vessels while they’re in motion, so their interaction depends on the reaction by the skipper and the ship’s crew. If orcas approach, the recommendation is to stop the vessel, lower sails and free the rudder. Individuals on board should keep away from the rails and take precautions to avoid falling overboard. If you refrain from loud noises, scaring the orcas or interacting with them, they should quickly lose interest.
However, skippers often try to go faster to avoid the orcas instead, thus inadvertently encouraging their curiosity. These interactions usually last for 30 minutes, during which time substantial material damage can be sustained. Orcas typically target the shaft, propeller, or keel, and in extreme cases, water can enter the boat and it can even sink. In case of a close encounter with an orca, the ship should be drydocked as soon as possible and critical points should be inspected, such as the hull, the keel-hull connection, shaft, propellers and rudders, and the resulting damage ought to be covered by CASCO boat insurance.
Therefore, if your sailing route crosses Gibraltar, we advise you to check your insurance policy with your provider or a specialised insurance broker. Finally, a safe navigation implies following the instructions and rules of conduct published regularly by port authorities in the areas where such interactions are registered and staying updated on the latest information on website of organisations in Spain and Portugal, such as www.orcaiberica.org, which deals with orca research and protection.