Admittedly they were megayachts, but the warning is clear for all cruising sailors headed for Europe after being in America, even for a short time. Two megayachts have been boarded and fined thousands of dollars by German customs officers in Kiel for having red-tinted fuel in their tanks.
The first yacht was ending a summer-long Baltic cruise when it was boarded in November. The most recent incident, which happened in July, came when the yacht was ending a springtime cruise. Neither captain wanted their names or yacht names mentioned since both have obtained lawyers to sort things out. We are honoring their requests.
“They’ve set up a maritime speed trap and captains need to be prepared for this,” said the captain fined in July, who was in New York last month talking to attorneys.
At issue is the red-dyed fuel both vessels took on in the United States before heading to the Baltic. Despite taking on numerous liters of clear, duty-paid fuel after leaving the U.S., some of the U.S. fuel remained to taint subsequent tanks.
Red-dyed fuel in the U.S. is reserved for off-road uses such as marine and farm equipment. It indicates that federal road taxes were not paid, but it is not duty-free. Some yachts will pay state sales tax on their fuel, though yachts leaving the country can sign an affidavit to that effect and avoid state sales taxes. Whether sales taxes have been paid or not, all marine fuel sold in the United States is dyed red.
Red-dyed fuel in Germany is duty-free and also reserved for off-road uses but, as in all European Union countries, is only permitted for commercial vessels. Both megayachts fined are private vessels.
“We had taken a very small amount of fuel in the U.S. prior to our transport to Europe,” said the captain fined in November. The yacht cruised around the Baltic all summer last year, including Scandinavia and Russia, using about 38,000 litres of fuel, which was tax paid and clear.
“But our fuel still had a very light pink color,” he said. “The chemical tests that customs use are extremely sensitive and will detect unseen quantities of dye. They told me it was illegal to mix tax free with tax paid.”
Customs officials immediately required a 10,000 euro bond to cover the fine that was yet to be determined. And the yacht was taxed 15,000 euros — about .55 euros per liter of total capacity. Then the captain had to pump out 8,000 liters of “contaminated” fuel, clean the tanks, and refuel, he said.
“If you have had any red fuel in your tanks at any time, their tests will show the markers, even if you have used thousands of litres of clean fuel,” the November captain said. “We are not allowed to fuel up to higher that 90 percent tank capacity, yet customs will tax you on 100 percent capacity, even if you have nearly empty tanks.”
After about seven months, the yacht’s agent was notified that the fine was 2,000 euros, and a month later 8,000 euros were returned to the yacht, the captain said.
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