Maurice and Jill Phillips, who were fined €500 after traces of red diesel were found in their yacht's fuel tank, said they will never go to Belgium again
A couple who were fined €500 by the Belgium authorities for having red diesel in their yacht fuel tank are urging other British sailors to boycott the country.
Speaking to Yachting Monthly‘s Theo Stocker, Maurice and Jill Phillips said they “strongly suspect” their Hunter Channel 31, Blue Diamond, was selected by Customs because they were flying the Red Ensign.
The couple were returning from a cruising holiday along the Dutch waterways with the Westerly Owners Association when the incident happened.
They are now keen to publicise their misfortune at Nieuwpoort, Belgium “in order that other innocent British yachtsmen don’t suffer the same fate”.
The Phillips said the officials didn’t give any reason for inspecting the fuel on board Blue Diamond, and although the couple had fuel receipts, these were not asked for, although the rest of their paperwork was thoroughly examined.
They said they were not aware of anyone else being inspected, and they were told the fine had to be paid on the spot.
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“No opportunity was offered to appeal,” explained the Phillips, adding, “We were in shock anyway”.
They said the officers who inspected their fuel tank advised that UK boats should clean their tanks so that no trace of red dye is present, and stated they had English boats come in with clean tanks.
“We said we didn’t know how this could be achieved as we believed only red diesel was available in British marinas. They didn’t believe this,” explained the Phillips.
“We had been away from the UK for 6 weeks and during this time had been topping up with “clean” diesel. We have a small fuel tank which only holds 60 litres. Their sample tube would not go down our filler and I was asked to take a sample from the fuel
filter. I then had to bleed the engine of course,” added Mr Phillips.
Following the incident, the couple say they will never visit the country again and are urging other sailors to also give it a miss.
“We will never ever go to Belgium again and are advising all we know in the boating world that they should do likewise. Our cruising
companions are still in the Dutch waterways, but are plotting courses to avoid Belgium on their return journey,” explained the Phillips, who usually moor Blue Diamond at Sovereign Harbour, Eastbourne.
The RYA is asking anyone who has been fined in Belgium for having red diesel in their boat’s fuel tank to contact them.
It comes after the association received reports that one sailor was fined €500 for having traces of the fuel in his yacht’s fuel tank.
The boat had been inspected by Belgian Customs in Nieuwpoort.
“Belgian Customs boarded the UK flagged boat at the KYCN Marina and in addition to checking paperwork examined a sample of fuel, which was found to contain traces of red diesel,” explained the RYA.
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.
As a result, the number of British yachts visiting the country has fallen.
Back in 2010 and 2011, the Belgian authorities clamped down on the use of ‘red’ diesel, with many sailors receiving significant fines.
“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. We received a report in May 2016 which suggested that the Belgian Authorities were hardening, however no reports of fines were received until now,” stated the RYA, which has continually lobbied for Belgium to reinstate the permission for visiting British yachts to use red diesel.
The association say it is unclear if this more recent fine is an “isolated incident” or if it is a signal that the Belgian authorities are taking a “tougher approach” towards UK flagged boats.
It is now asking anyone who has been fined in Belgium for having red diesel in their tanks to contact them giving as much detail about the incident as possible.
Anyone wanting to get in touch should email firstname.lastname@example.org.