Cyclone Debbie largest ever, says Club Marine


“In terms of the number of boats damaged, claims lodged and the sheer devastation on the ground, Cyclone Debbie is the largest catastrophic weather event I’ve seen,” said Club Marine’s National Claims Technical Manager, Phil Johnson. “Virtually all the boats at the marinas we visited were damaged in one way or another.”

Johnson has been with Club Marine for more than 38 years and in that time has seen plenty of major weather events impact the company’s members.

He headed a team of seven Club Marine catastrophe event specialists, which responded to Cyclone Debbie, when it wrought havoc on the residents of north Queensland as it slammed into the coast on March 28. The cyclone has left a total damage bill estimated to be in the billions, with Club Marine currently processing in excess of 300 claims covering everything from total losses to comprehensive hull and structural damage.

Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island were the hardest hit areas in terms of damage to Club Marine members’ craft and also marine infrastructure, including marinas, berths and moorings.

The tremendously destructive 260km/h winds ripped boats from their berths, tore marina arms from their mountings and threw large boats onto the rocks as waves surged over marina protection walls. Much of the damage was the result of vessels colliding with each other and marina structures, while the high wind speeds also caused extreme exterior damage likened to “ultra-high-powered sand-blasting”, according to one assessor.

Club Marine Cyclone Debbie 2017
As Australasia’s largest provider of recreational boat insurance, Club Marine monitored the progress of Debbie as the cyclone gathered strength off the Queensland coast.

Before it had even descended on the Whitsundays and Airlie Beach, the company had issued alert notices to members in the likely affected areas via SMS, email and via Club Marine’s award-winning App.

The company also flew members of its Catastrophe Response Team into Townsville ahead of the storm to prepare contingency plans, including arranging salvage and repair services.

With much of the basic infrastructure, including electricity, water and mobile phone services damaged or destroyed, and with roads flooded and airports closed, just gaining access to the affected areas was going to be a challenge. This required some creative thinking for Club Marine’s assessors, who, unable to fly or drive to the Whitsundays, chartered a boat from Townsville, which arrived at Hamilton Island Marina after a 20hr voyage. They were among the first disaster response people to provide assistance to the hard-hit island and immediately began offering help where they could, securing wayward vessels, arranging salvage operations and offering assistance to marina staff.

“The island had no services or facilities for visitors, so we were at least self-sufficient on our boat, which we turned into a floating office for members to drop by,” said assessor Darren Williams, who is still on the island more than a week later working on behalf of Club Marine members to secure their boats and provide assistance.

Another Club Marine assessor, who is still working in Airlie Beach, spent two nights sleeping in his car in Bowen as he made his way down the coast to the most affected areas, while two others spent three nights without power and living on muesli bars after arriving in Airlie Beach to begin work.

“While our thoughts are primarily with all those locals and Club Marine members who have been so profoundly affected by the cyclone, I’d like to commend our own team members who continue to work in difficult conditions to process claims and secure and salvage members’ boats,” said Club Marine CEO, Simon McLean.

“Together with our claims team, our assessors and salvage experts have put in a tremendous effort and I’m extremely proud of their professionalism and dedication on behalf of our members,” said McLean.

While Hamilton Island bore the brunt of the cyclone’s fury in terms of damage to boats and the marina, Abell Point Marine in Airlie Beach was fortunately spared the worst of the destruction.

“The cyclone came straight in over us, so we saw the brute force of the storm first-hand,” said Luke McCaul, General Manager at Abell Point Marina. “We’re very glad to say that we sustained only 15 per cent damage to the marina on the water.”

McCaul said he was grateful for the response and the support provided by Club Marine.

“Club Marine was very timely in its response,” he said. “Corey Yeung, Club Marine Queensland state manager, made contact with me straight away, offering help and support. Corey also provided the names and numbers of assessors and of insured boats. This made it simple to get in contact with the teams that could help us secure members’ vessels.

“Abell Point Marina is now up and running – we’ve restored all power, water etc and everything is operational, including the cafés, restaurants and other facilities. We’ve begun replacing the damage done by the cyclone and by the start of the winter season in June, visitors won’t even know that a cyclone has come through here.”

According to Dave Hughes, Club Marine’s National Assessing Manager, while many boat owners went to great lengths to protect their vessels, some could have avoided damage by taking more effective preventative measures.

“We saw a lot of examples where owners could have been more proactive in their preparations,” he said. “Simple things like stowing sails, removing clears, covers and canopies and stowing tenders could have prevented a lot of damage. And given the amount of notice we had with Debbie, owners in some areas could have relocated their vessels to safer locations.”

Due to a shortage of repair facilities, many of the most damaged vessels in the Whitsundays will have to be transported as far afield as Cairns in the north and the Gold Coast in the south for specialist repairs.

While Club Marine’s assessors are working as fast as possible to process the large number of claims caused by Debbie, Club Marine advises all affected members to exercise patience when contacting our claims department as we continue to deal with the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie.

Club Marine continues to process claims and manage repairs and should members require further assistance, please contact our claims department on 1300 00 CLUB (2582).

Claims can also be lodged online here: here

Club Marine Cyclone Debbie 2017