Northern Ireland cruising: concerns over red diesel ban

From 30 June 2021, recreational boat owners in Northern Ireland have to fill up their vessels with white diesel. Currently there are no plans to provide marine white diesel pumps in Northern Ireland

The UK Government has confirmed that from 30 June 2021, recreational boat owners in Northern Ireland will be banned from using red diesel for the propulsion of their vessels.

Instead, those wishing to refuel in Northern Ireland must do so with white diesel.

The problem?

There are no marine white diesel pumps in Northern Ireland, and demand is insufficient for commercial operators to make provision.

The Cruising Association (CA), the RYA and British Marine have now met with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) demanding clarity surrounding the Government’s plans for the implementation of the red diesel ban and how it intends to address the practical difficulties before June.

HMRC has confirmed that once the change does take effect, it would be illegal to buy red diesel for private pleasure craft propulsion in Northern Ireland, but fuel already present in tanks could be used without penalty.

A yacht moored at Gibbs Island, Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland

From 30 June, cruisers in Northern Ireland will be banned from using red diesel to propel their vessels. Credit: Brian Black

Private pleasure craft from Northern Ireland that fill up in Great Britain (GB) in future could do so under the Istanbul Convention which will allow red diesel legitimately purchased in GB to be taken back to Northern Ireland in the main fuel tanks of a boat.

The CA has highlighted that this would involve a minimum 90 mile sail to Scotland or the Isle of Man to lawfully purchase red diesel.

Alternatively, the nearest white diesel marine pump is in Dublin, a minimum 75 mile sail. Sailors in Northern Ireland can also buy white diesel from filling stations in jerry cans where the marine rebate will not be available, and where the number of cans/journeys required for most boats would be considerable.

There are also environmental hazards and regulations associated with refuelling by this method.

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The president of the CA, Julian Dussek urged the Treasury to work with the Northern Ireland Assembly to produce financial incentives for the fuel industry to create a viable marine supply of white diesel in the province.

‘Although these options may be viable, they are completely unreasonable. I cannot imagine another situation in which legislation would be passed knowing that compliance was well-nigh impossible,’ he added.

The RYA is recommending that recreational boaters with marked ‘red’ diesel purchased in GB:

  • Keep receipts for diesel purchased in GB, to prove that it was bought in the GB, and request that your retailer marks them “duty paid.”
  • Log the date of refuelling and engine hours to reinforce these records; and
  • Do not carry marked diesel anywhere other than in their craft’s main fuel storage tanks.

HMRC has said that private pleasure craft users in Northern Ireland with only one fuel tank on board for propulsion and non-propulsion will not have to pay a higher rate of duty on their non-propulsion use of diesel than they would otherwise have to pay.

The Government is intending to introduce a new relief scheme in Northern Ireland which will become effective from the date that users become obliged to use white diesel.

Earlier this month in his 2021 Budget, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak  announced that sailors in England, Scotland and Wales would still be able to use red diesel to propel their vessels.

Northern Ireland was excluded to ensure the UK meets its international obligations under the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

It will also align with fuel used by private pleasure craft in the Republic of Ireland, which the Government believes will make it simpler for private pleasure craft users to access the fuel they need if they sail between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (and vice versa).

Last year, the UK Government announced it would remove the subsidy on red diesel from April 2022, although boaters would still be able to use subsidised fuel for heating onboard.

It followed a consultation with the sailing industry and commercial boat owners after a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in October 2018 that the UK wasn’t complying with the EU Fuel Directive by allowing leisure vessels to use marked diesel.

A similar ruling was made against Ireland, which had green diesel. From 1 January 2020, the use of green diesel to solely power pleasure boats was banned.

In the UK, most marinas sell red diesel on a 60/40 split of full and lower tax rates for propulsion, and heating or power generation.

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Source: Yachting Monthly

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