Sinking Amsterdam Houseboats May Dampen World Cup Victory Parade Spirits

ING Groep NV stands to gain from a victory in the soccer World Cup after sponsoring the Dutch team. As an insurer of Amsterdam houseboats, it may hope the celebration stays under control.

A boat parade through the city’s canals will draw more than double its normal population to its narrow cobblestone streets to get a better look at the players. The city will hold a canal tour if the Netherlands defeats Spain in Johannesburg July 11 and honor the players on Museum Square if they lose.

In 1988, the only time the Netherlands brought home a football trophy for the European championships, fans jumped onto the roofs of the houseboats, which can sell for more than 300,000 euros ($380,000), to catch a better view of star players, such as Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten.

The image of tilted houseboats with dozens of supporters hanging off the roof has been indelibly linked in the Dutch psyche and become synonymous with football victory. “No, not again!” screamed a headline in the Dutch national newspaper De Telegraaf July 8, speaking to concerns of damage to houseboats.

Nationale Nederlanden, a unit of the biggest Dutch insurer ING, is already in talks with the city about how to minimize damage to the boats, which range from converted cargo ships to duplex vessels with gardens and patios.

‘Keep Floating’

“We hope, of course, that they’ll keep floating and there will be no damage,” said Stijn Wesselink, a spokesman for Nationale Nederlanden. “Should a boat sink, then the owners will be insured” through the company’s all-in policy, Wesselink said.

Nationale Nederlanden insures several thousand houseboats in the Netherlands, Wesselink said. Other insurers that offer policies for floating domiciles include Delta Lloyd NV, Aviva Plc’s publicly traded Dutch unit.

About 2,300 houseboats are moored in Amsterdam, whose center was designed around four concentric canals in the seventeenth century in a city partly reclaimed from the water. The surplus waterfront and a housing shortage have made living literally on water popular in one of Europe’s most densely populated countries.

Boat Inspections

Amsterdam city officials are already touring boats along the route to take note of their existing condition, spokeswoman Hanane Lechkar said. Some houseboat owners are considering hiring security guards to prevent people from climbing onto the roofs, said Eric Blaauw, a board member of the National Houseboat Organisation.

Delta Lloyd is prepared for the possibility of a higher number of claims for compensation, Iris van Rijk, a spokeswoman for the Amsterdam-based insurer, said. Some damage was reported in 1988, she said.

In the meanwhile, homeowners should be vigilant in trying to limit the damage, said Blaauw. “You just have to be watchful, try to shout ‘boo’ if someone does something illegal and hope for the best,” he said.

According to at least one highly rated pundit, the Dutch will have little to celebrate after the final.

Paul, an octopus in Germany that’s correctly predicted the outcome of all of that country’s World Cup matches by choosing a mussel from labeled glass tanks, was today asked to pick the champion. After a minute’s procrastination, he went for Spain.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martijn van der Starre at vanderstarre@bloomberg.net.

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