Risk remains of heavy fines from Belgian authorities if found with red diesel in your fuel tanks

PBO and the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) have received a report from a boater who has been fined €500 for having traces of red diesel in his yacht’s fuel tank following an inspection by Belgian Customs in Nieuwpoort.

Maurice Phillips and his wife had been enjoying a six-week cruise aboard their Hunter Channel 31 Blue Diamond, in company with other boats around the French/Belgian coasts and the Dutch inland waterways.

They were sailing alone and en route to their home berth at Sovereign Harbour, Eastbourne when Belgian Customs boarded the UK-flagged boat on 26 June at the KYCN Marina and in addition to checking paperwork examined a sample of fuel, which was found to contain traces of red diesel.

Maurice said: ‘Belgian Customs officials were on board for about an hour and a quarter checking our documentation. All in order.

‘They wanted a sample of our fuel. Unfortunately their sample tube would not go down our diesel filler and so they asked for a sample from the fuel filter which we provided. This sample was slightly tinged pink which we thought would be acceptable. Sadly not and we were fined 500 Euros.

‘We explained to them that red diesel is the only fuel available to boats in the UK, but were told other English boats had clean tanks and it was for us to clean our tank before entering Belgian waters. We found this difficult to believe.

‘Our fuel tank only holds 60 litres. We had topped up at Dover before crossing the Channel. We have cruised France, Belgium and Holland for the last six weeks and during this time have notched up 67.6 engine hours. Our boat does four hours to five litres of fuel, which means over our period away we had used 85 litres. In fact we had topped up again in Nieuwpoort on arrival.

‘The lesson we have learnt is that no matter how much white diesel you put in the tank, the fuel will always be tinged pink and unacceptable to the Belgian authorities.

‘We feel we were targeted and so sadly we will not be returning to this country.’

Although it is still legal to purchase red diesel for use in pleasure craft in the UK, it is unlawful in Belgium to use red diesel for propelling a private pleasure craft.

Boating in Belgian waters with marked ‘red’ diesel in your fuel tanks in 2010 and 2011 put you at risk of receiving a significant fine. The Belgian Authorities then appeared to have become more tolerant of UK boaters using red diesel and the risk of being fined seemed to have reduced.

The RYA received a report in May 2016 which suggested that the Belgian Authorities were hardening, however no reports of fines were received until now.

An RYA spokesperson said: ‘At present we do not know whether this fine was an isolated incident or if it is a signal that the Belgian authorities are taking a tougher approach towards UK flagged boats.

In order to establish a fuller picture of the situation, we would urge anyone who is fined in Belgium for having red diesel in their tanks to email boating.abroad@rya.org.uk giving as much detail as possible.’

The Regulations and Technical Services (RATS) group of the Cruising Association (CA) has also been working on this issue.

A spokesperson said: ‘As the understanding for these last two years with Belgium authorities regarding red diesel can no longer be relied upon, RATS is now suggesting that skippers may think twice about sailing to Belgium.

‘If any advice is received that the original understanding is upheld of how the Belgian officials treat visiting UK vessels, RATS will publish an update on the CA website: www.theca.org.uk.’

Their advice continues to be:

  • You should have the latest invoices for your fuel purchases showing that the full 100% fuel duty has been paid.

  • You are not allowed to purchase and fill up the boat tank(s) with red diesel in EU States. You must use white diesel and be aware that it may contain bio diesel.

  • You must never carry any fuel in spare containers. RATS suggests that fuel tanks should be full when going on a voyage.

  • If there is any dispute with Customs, keep all paperwork and other evidence, then, for advice, contact your port of destination or the National Office for Customs Administration in the country concerned.

  • These requirements are the same as that needed last year by the Dutch Customs and Excise and RATS believes, from their contacts, that when coming into the Netherlands, there continues to be no problem with the presence of UK purchased red marine diesel in a boat’s fuel tank(s) provided the relevant receipts are on board available for inspection.