Yahsat Buys Shariah-compliant Satellite Insurance

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PARIS — Startup satellite fleet operator Yahsat of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, has secured what its insurers say is the first space-insurance policy meeting financing conditions established in Islamic law for a portion of its two-satellite insurance package valued at up to $1.15 billion, Yahsat and its insurers announced April 7.

The broad lines of the policy covering the launch and first year in orbit of the two Yahsat satellites, to be launched separately in 2011, had already been organized by Yahsat under conventional commercial-insurance terms. That policy provides for about $450 million in coverage for Yahsat 1A, and the same amount for Yahsat 1B. But if both satellites fail at launch, the claim for the second satellite will rise to around $700 million under the policy’s terms, insurance officials have said.

When Yahsat sought additional coverage, insurance underwriter Elseco of Dubai and broker Willis Inspace of London and Paris structured a policy with Abu Dhabi-based Methaq Takaful Insurance Co. that complies with Shariah, or Islamic law.

These conditions included a review of Yahsat, its satellites and their proposed use by a Shariah supervisory board to verify that the policy did not violate Islamic law precepts including prohibitions against price gouging.

Another aspect of the Shariah-compliant portion of the insurance package backed by Methaq is what is sometimes called a no-claim bonus, wherein Yahsat will be refunded a portion of its insurance premium paid to Methaq if it makes no claims under the policy.

“The Shariah moral principle of ‘I help you and you help me’ is what’s at the core of this,” said Pierre-Eric Lys, chairman of Elseco. “The Shariah supervisory board looked at the ethics of the insurance package in general and at the intended use and customers of the satellites before delivering their opinion. Shariah finance is certainly not new, but to our knowledge this is the first space policy that has been cleared as Shariah compliant.

“Given the planned space activity both in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world, we think this policy will open the way for more Shariah-compliant space insurance coverage.”

In an April 7 interview, Lys said obtaining Shariah-approved status could be useful not only for companies like Yahsat that are based in Islamic nations, but also for Western and other non-Islamic companies seeking to do business in Islamic regions.

“Having a project labeled Shariah-compliant opens lots of doors in Islamic nations and can make it easier to receive government assistance of various kinds,” Lys said. “Obviously if you can portray your project credibly as being good for the nation and good for the religion, you will have an advantage.”

Lys said assembling the package with Methaq took several months. With the precedent now set, he said, he expects other satellite operators in Islamic nations may wish to follow suit for at least some portion of their insurance policies, if not for the full policy.

Philippe Montpert, managing director of Willis Inspace, said Willis will be proposing similar policies to its customers in Islamic nations. “We plan to develop this with Methaq for other programs,” Montpert said in an interview. “The difficult part of this was to get the validation from the Shariah board. Now that we have the experience we believe this could set a trend for other operators in the region.”

Methaq was established as an underwriter in 2009. Its managing director, Abdullah Al Maamarri, said April 7 that the company’s involvement in the coverage of the two Yahsat satellites is “testimony to the will and desire of Yahsat to encourage local Islamic financial institutions to provide such specialized insurance solutions.”

Yahsat’s two large satellites are under construction by a consortium led by Astrium Satellites and Thales Alenia Space of Europe to provide Ka- and Ku-band television and high-speed data links in the region, with part of the payload reserved for government use. Yahsat 1A will be launched by Europe’s Arianespace consortium of Evry, France, aboard an Ariane 5 rocket. Yahsat 1B will be launched aboard a Russian Proton vehicle commercialized by International Launch Services of Reston, Va.

 

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