British insurer and reinsurer Lancashire reported a better-than-expected 2011 profit even though natural disasters drove a 55 percent increase in claims, and said it was optimistic insurance prices would increase in 2012.

Lancashire, which insures ships, oil rigs and aircraft, said its 2011 pretax profit fell 35 percent to $218.6 million (139.3 million pound), still ahead of the $204 million pencilled in by analysts in a company poll.

The decline reflected a 55 percent increase in claims to $155.3 million, driven by Japan's Tohoku earthquake, the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand, as well as a $35 million hit from the Costa Concordia shipwreck.

Lancashire shares were up 1 percent at 789 pence by 0830 GMT, narrowly outperforming a 0.5 percent increase in the FTSE 250 share index <.FTMC>.

The company, which in January moved its tax base to the UK from Bermuda, said it was hopeful last year's near-record claims would drive an increase in pricing in 2012 as insurers seek to recoup their losses.

I am cautiously optimistic about the insurance pricing environment for 2012, chief executive Richard Brindle said in a statement.

The outlook is positive in many of our core areas.

Prices have been flat or falling for most types of insurance and reinsurance for about four years, reflecting intense competition between well-capitalised insurers.

The insurance industry absorbed over $100 billion in natural disaster claims last year, making it the second costliest catastrophe year on record after 2005, when hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, according to reinsurer Swiss Re.

(Reporting by Myles Neligan; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford)