Catastrophes cost the global insurance industry an estimated $70 billion in insured losses in the first half of 2011, more than double the $29 billion in the first half of 2010, according to Swiss Re sigma.

This means 2011 ranks already as the second costliest year for insured catastrophe losses in history, behind 2005 when total catastrophe claims amounted to $120 billion of which $90 billion was caused by hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita, sigma says.

In the words of Thomas Hess, Swiss Re’s chief economist:

Additional claims from the ongoing U.S. hurricane season or expensive winter storms in Europe have the potential to bring figures for the full year even closer to the record claims of $120 billion experienced in 2005.”

Based on first half events, 2011 will be the year with the highest insured earthquake losses in history, sigma says. Approximately 26,000 people lost their lives in catastrophes in the first six months of 2011, most of them in the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

Claims from natural catastrophes alone reached $67 billion in the first half of 2011, compared to $27 billion in the same period of 2010, according to sigma.

Total economic losses (insured and uninsured) for the first half year’s disasters amounted to almost $278 billion.

Swiss Re’s figures are in line with Munich Re’s latest catastrophe loss estimates. Check out I.I.I. facts and stats on global catastrophes for more on this.