Alea may be forced to sell itself after Standard & Poor's stripped it of its important A- rating last week.

The insurer said in a statement that it was exploring "strategic initiatives" after its ratings were slashed to BBB+ with a negative outlook in a move by S&P that was prompted by the group's poor interim results and disappointing operating trend.

Alea suffered a 47% decline in its first half profits to $25.9m from $48.8m in the same period of 2004