What Colour is Your Diesel?

What Colour is Your Diesel?

Diesel fuel for leisure craft in Ireland

For many years leisure vessels in the EU have been required to use only fully-taxed "white" diesel. Three countries - the UK, Belgium and Ireland - had a derogation that allowed their leisure sailors to buy and use marked diesel - red in the UK and Belgium, green in Ireland. That derogation was withdrawn in 2008. The three countries responded in different ways. Ireland's response was to require sailors to make an annual declaration to the Revenue of green diesel used, and pay the extra tax. This was extremely poorly publicised - the great majority of leisure sailors were (and still are) unaware of it - and the annual returns averaged 25 in number, probably one percent of users. The Revenue took no action.

In 2014 the European Commission conducted an audit and filed a case with the European Court of Justice accusing Ireland of being out of compliance with the EU Fuels Directive. In October 2018 the Court found in favour of the Commission. The verdict was accepted by the Department of Finance, who have instructed the Revenue to implement it.

In principle this means that supply and use of green diesel for leisure craft will be illegal, just as it is in road vehicles, and possibly subject to similar heavy penalties. 

There are 26 coastal marinas in Ireland of which 13 have a diesel pump, and one that offers a supply in cans. There are another two harbours where diesel may be obtained by hose. As of October 2018, six marinas (all between Howth and Kinsale) have reported an intention to switch their pumps from green to white, and another three - Carlingford, Lawrence Cove and Fenit - have said they won't. The quayside supplier in Baltimore is not likely to switch. No information is available yet on the remaining sources. It is thus quite possible that there won't be a quayside diesel hose for a leisure vessel anywhere between Kinsale and Coleraine, essentially the entire western half of Ireland. The price (where available) will of course be road equivalent, or more likely higher. French harbours typically charge 25 to 35 cents a litre over road price.

Green diesel has traditionally been easy to obtain from road tankers in places such as fishing ports, but white diesel is much more difficult. Because white diesel is used only by road vehicles, there are many fewer tankers. Casual and opportunistic fuelling will no longer be possible, minimum order quantities are likely to be of the order of 400 or 500 litres and delivery lead times two days or more.

The leisure sailor who uses modest quantities of diesel by jerrican will have no difficulty apart from the added cost. Those who day-sail or weekend cruise from the Dublin or Cork areas will be able to fuel from marina white-diesel pumps (there will also be one at Kilmore Quay). Other locations and longer cruises will face significant difficulties with fuel availability, especially on the west coast. There is of course a major safety issue involved.

Irish Sailing had worked closely with the Department of Finance to defend the interests of leisure sailors, but the defence (on the basis of safety and availability) fell in the face of the patently dysfunctional system of tax collection. The loss of the case now poses serious problems. We are now seeking creative ways of addressing the situation, and maintaining communication with harbours, marinas and oil suppliers.

Inland waterway craft are facing exactly the same problems.


Norman Kean

Representation Group, Irish Sailing

13 November 2018

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