Editor’s note: This news has come in from two captains in San Remo last week. As they are now involved in the legal matters surrounding the incident, they asked for their names not to be used, but they are both personally known to The Triton.
On Thursday (Jan. 24), about 30 agents from the Guardia di Finanza armed with search warrants boarded and searched at least seven yachts in Sanremo. The officials targeted foreign-flagged vessels and asked for fuel tax-related issues, including charter contracts, oil record books and bunkering agreements.
Apparently, according to several captains involved, the officers are trying to identify foreign vessels that have bought duty-free fuel in the past five years.
Commercially-registered vessels have traditionally been permitted to buy duty-free fuel with a valid charter agreement. But early last year, one captain said non-EU-flag yachts were no longer permitted to buy duty-free fuel in Europe. (Gibraltar, though part of the EU, is outside the customs and VAT area.)
The officials boarded the yachts in Sanremo in groups of four or five and said they had the authority to search the boat and, if they wished, to remove computers, hard drives and smart phones that could help in their investigations. One captain said they were not in uniform.
“It is quite intimidating when these people come on board,” said this captain, skipper of a yacht of less than 50m. “They will not show any identification nor give you their names. I feel that they should at least be in uniform and without doubt, should properly identify themselves.
“I also feel that since they are deliberately targeting non-Italian boats, they should have with them at least one person who speaks English,” this captain said, adding that they did not, for the most part, speak English.
According to the chief engineer on one yacht that was searched, all contractors and workers were escorted off the vessel and crew were told to remain below while the officers searched the yacht. One crew member was able to accompany them, as well as the ship’s agent.
Both captains said their vessels were thoroughly searched, including each drawer and locker, and demanded to see inside any safes they found. Generally, the search and the paperwork took in excess of six hours.
“For any yachts heading back to the Mediterranean from the Caribbean, if they are non-EU flagged, and if at any time in the last five years they have bought fuel duty-free in Italy, I would strongly suggest that they think seriously before venturing into Italian waters until the court cases have been heard and we see what are the consequences,” one captain said.
The Triton is continuing to report on this story. Watch for updates here and in the March issue of The Triton.