RYA challenges Belgian authorities' actions in fining UK boaters

RYA challenges Belgian authorities' actions in fining UK boaters

This article dates from 2011 and was originally published on 27 May 2011.

Gus Lewis, Head of Government Affairs, tells us why the RYA is challenging the actions of the Belgian authorities.

Back in 2010 we warned anyone thinking of heading to Belgium that the Belgian authorities may have tried to impose a fine on visiting boats that had red diesel in their tanks.

Despite the fact that the fuel had been duty paid in the UK and that purchase of red diesel or marked fuel was legal in the UK.

It now appears that this issue may have taken on a new dimension after the RYA received a report of a boat travelling through Belgian territorial waters en route to the Netherlands being boarded by Belgian Customs.

The RYA understands that the boat’s skipper was fined 750 Euros for having red diesel in the boat’s main fuel tank, despite the skipper being able to demonstrate that he had purchased the fuel in the UK and had paid duty on the fuel at the 60/40 split rate.

The Belgian Customs officers also took a fuel sample to test for sulphur content of the fuel.

RYA challenges Belgian authorities’ actions

The RYA raised this issue with the European Commission (EC) last year and in light of this recent incident we have contacted the EC again to challenge the validity of Belgian authorities’ actions under EU law.

The RYA is also working with the UK’s HM Revenue & Customs and the European Boating Association on this issue.

The RYA’s view, which is supported by advice we have received from a specialist tax barrister, is that the Belgian authorities’ penalisation of recreational boaters for having red diesel (purchased lawfully in another member state) in their boat’s fuel tanks infringes EU law.

RYA advice to boaters

The RYA continues to advise any boaters considering visiting Belgium to be aware that the authorities may try to fine UK boaters with red diesel in their tanks. In addition, we advise those passing through Belgian territorial waters that they too may be subject to the same penalty.

For the most part, however, as long as they have their fuel receipt as proof of purchase and duty or tax paid, UK boaters should not encounter any problems but they should be prepared for Belgian officials to take a keen interest in where and when they purchased their fuel.

Although the RYA is concerned about the reported actions of the Belgian authorities, as far as the RYA is aware only a handful of boaters have experienced any problems with the Belgian authorities over the red diesel in their tanks to date.

Enforcement lies with the Commission

Irrespective of whether the Belgian authorities believe that the continued availability of red diesel in the UK infringes the relevant EU Directive, it is for the Commission alone to enforce any alleged failure of a Member States to fully implement obligations arising under EU Directives.

The Belgian authorities should not therefore penalise individual UK boaters for what they might consider to be a failing on the part of the UK Government, particularly individual boaters who are simply passing through Belgian waters without calling at a Belgian port.

It is for this reason that we are lobbying the Commission in an effort to persuade it to intervene.

The suggestion that the Belgian authorities tested for sulphur content is also extremely worrying as there is currently no requirement under EU law for sea-going vessels to use ultra-low sulphur diesel.

More advice on the use of red diesel abroad.

Article originally published on 27 May 2011.