- 2 Feb 2003
Mmm...there is indeed no evidence that Belgian Customs have put Red Diesel Users' heads on spikes...yet.Well 100% positive to date as no evidence of any fines has yet been posted. Its like IS propaganda, just frightens some for no reason
However, it does not mean that some of the incidents aren't real. The chap I spoke to in Dunkirk (earlier thread), had the fine imposed on him less than three hours earlier, in Nieuwpoort. He showed me (and another visiting Brit) the hand-written paperwork made up by the Belgian Customs. Since it was written in Dutch, I do not doubt its authenticity. I know his name, his boat's name, home port on the Orwell, and have a picture of his boat. But I have no intention of putting the info in a public forum for the sake of providing evidence, certainly not without his consent.
Having indicated he was not overly enthousiastic to actually pay the fine, I can understand that other victims most probably feel the same. Ergo, also not eager to shout it from top of the mast. The 'other chap' he was talking to, who 'had a friend' who was fined, had never payed the fine. That works, but not always. As in an incident in Vlissingen some years ago, mentioned by the RYA, the Dutch Customs officers had the perpetrator marched to the nearest ATM to collect the dosh.
That said, all three incidents I am aware of, and of which I do not doubt the authenticity, involved originally a discussion by the Scheepvaartpolitie on missing paperwork. In the case mentioned above it was not having the actual ship's papers on board (only a digital file on the PC, but for a good reason IMHO), no ship's name or home port, etc. Another case started with a dispute about the radar licence. In short, after having found incomplete documents, they had started to fine-comb for other issues.
As for the mindset of the Police or Customs, it has not so much to do with Pragmatism or the Blind Obeying Of Rules. Unlike their Dutch counterparts, Belgian officials were in the past perceived as being too easy-going.
As a visual example, Belgians have a deep disregard for building regulations. In Holland, you will find rows of almost identical houses. This is alien to a Belgian. He will built his house just a foot lower or higher than his neighbour's, choose a different kind of brick, use a different shade of paint. Likewise, until ten to fifteen years ago, fines for exceeding the speed limit were relatively rare and far-between. Many Dutch drove over their Southern border to enjoy their yellow Porches. In a nutshell, you could get away with more fun stuff than in the Netherlands. After a series of scathing articles in the Dutch media, the situation changed- I remember a story in De Waterkampioen (Holland's most popular boating magazine) on the same theme. Belgium got a few more years' red diesel derogation, which added to the image of Loose Morals. The Schengen treaty and the consequent disappearance of border controls meant also that surplus officers were allocated different duties. One of which, I don't doubt, was the, ahem, 'attention' bestowed on boaters.