Insurers to review premiums at 500 Dubai skyscrapers over flammable cladding fears

January 06, 2016

undefinedThe owners of more than 500 high-rise buildings in Dubai built before 2012 face massive increases in insurance premiums following the devastating New Year’s Eve blaze in the heart of Dubai.

The building, completed in 2008, used aluminium composite cladding, which is now known to burn ferociously, and insurers in the UAE are reconsidering premium structures following an investigation by the country's biggest newspaper.

The Address Hotel Downtown burned for more than 14 hours after fire began at 9.30pm, watched on TV new channels around the world during the two hours before the country's firework display at midnight.

Just 10 months before an equally spectacular fire at the 352m Torch Tower in Dubai Marina drew international media coverage. No one died in either fire but attention focused on the flammable cladding believed to have been used in more than 500 buildings before it was banned in 2012.

As the clean up began around Downtown Dubai, the country’s National newspaper reported that insurers would almost certainly look to set higher premiums for buildings finished with the aluminium-polyurethane panels.

It quoted the executive vice president of general insurance at the Oman Insurance Company saying his investigators had learned from the Torch Tower fire that even a minimal amount of combustible material could lead to devastation. “It has made us more cautious in our approach towards insuring buildings that utilise any kind of flammable cladding.”

undefinedThe National newspaper also carried one of the most thorough investigations into aluminium cladding ever seen in the UAE.

“Most of the buildings constructed during the city’s boom property boom years did NOT use fire-rated panels,” it reveals.

“It poses a challenge for building owners seeking to mitigate fire risk, while avoiding the massive costs associated with replaced the often highly flammable exterior cladding."

For the first time The National revealed the manufacturer of the cladding used at The Address as Sharjah based Alumco, which secured the $20m contract in 2006 to provide 35,000 sq m of composite panels.

Almco’s chief executive told The National that its panels were built to the requested specification and met the fire standards approved by the consultant.

He said that as well as the composite panels, investigations now should examine the silicon and rubber gaskets used on facades. He said exterior silicon could burn whether a building had composite cladding or not.

A spokesman for engineer WS Atkins told The National: “As designer of the hotel we are now providing our full support to our client, and stand ready to assist the authorities with their investigations. While these investigations are ongoing, it isn’t appropriate for us to discuss the project further or to speculate about the incident. All enquiries should be directed to Emaar.”

An Emaar spokesperson said that its buildings are tested on a regular basis.

“All Emaar developments are strictly in compliance with the codes and regulations by the concerned authorities. The buildings are tested on a regular basis and clearances provided.”

The regulations on replacement cladding for older buildings is unclear and The Big 5 Hub has asked Emaar to confirm that The Address will meet post 2012 standard after it is restored.

Dubai Civil Defense is conducting an investigation into the cause of the New Year’s Eve blaze.

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