In response to red diesel fines that occurred in Belgium at the end of June and earlier this month, the RYA has been in communication with the relevant UK and European authorities, with a view to encouraging them to find a solution to the discrepancy between the laws in Belgium and the UK.
The UK has still not heard anything further concerning the infraction proceedings that the RYA reported had been threatened in 2014. The Belgian Government has seemingly not been prepared to wait for that due process to be followed, resulting in UK boaters receiving fines.
Last week, however, VVW Nieuwpoort Marina announced that Belgian Government will no longer be checking recreational craft for red diesel, as a common European approach is to be discussed at a meeting on the matter in September. The RYA has proactively sought to verify this information and has been assured that British yachts can enter Belgian ports without fear of being fined, at present.
The RYA contacted the Secretary of State of the North Sea’s office (the source of VVW Nieuwpoort Marina’s information) to request formal confirmation that Belgian Customs would no longer be checking pleasure craft for red diesel.
The response indicated that, due to the Secretary of State of the North Sea’s intervention, a temporary decision has been taken by the Minister of Finance to take a more tolerant approach.
That said, it also made it clear that it was outside the Secretary of State’s jurisdiction to provide the RYA with formal confirmation that British boaters can travel to Belgium with red diesel in the tanks of their pleasure craft without the risk of being fined.
The RYA was also told that Secretary of State of the North Sea was also unable to guarantee that customs officers would not continue to conduct checks. Our request for official confirmation that British boaters can travel to Belgium with red diesel in the tanks of their pleasure craft without the risk of being fined was therefore referred to the Minister of Finance’s office.
Subsequently, the Minister of Finance’s office advised that due to there being different treatment on how the use of red diesel in pleasure craft is dealt with in different EU member states, Belgian customs has suspended all controls until there has been a debate at EU level to ensure a uniform approach in all member states. This debate is expected to take place on 18 September 2017.
The correspondence from the Minister of Finance’s office stated: “This means that British yachts can enter Belgian ports without fear of being fined.”
It should however be noted that this is not a change to the Belgian legislation. It is simply a statement that the law will not be enforced in the short term. The anticipated outcome of the EU level debate is uniform treatment on the use of red diesel in all EU ports, which we have been assured will be clearly notified.
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The RYA will keep Members updated as this situation progresses, however it would appear that until mid-September Belgian ports can once again be visited without risking a fine for having red diesel in vessels’ tanks.