Thank you, thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. My wife and I are overwhelmed with this amount of answers, suggestions, support, ideas, contacts, etc.
We visited the Belgium consulate ans we spent plenty of time with our lawyer. Really nice and helpful man. My impression is that he knows what he is doing. We had a meetings at his office. We also went with him to meet the Commander of the Guardia Civil. It was a bit like getting in heart of evil for me, and I was psychologically prepared to stay cool (lawyer and wife's instructions), but I must say the Commander and another officer behaved very polite (no arrogant manners like the policeman in the Marina). So I must say that helped. We also went to meet a Merchant Marine
officer (which according to the lawyer seem to be the relevant authority upon small private sailboats). He was pretty hermetic and basically kept saying that once he had all the documents he would issue produce some kind of paper (which is not expected to be good). Then our lawyer and us had a long lunch while discussing our situation is.
We came back to the internet
cafe and this is when we were totally overwhelmed. I am not really into using the internet
and had never joined any forum before nor planned to. I came across some of them now and then when searching for some sailing matter, but never really got into it. So when we sat down in the computer and saw all the answers, ideas, contacts, messages of support, etc. we were really impressed. And we can only say thank you one million times to all of you. Honestly, when we came to the internet cafe a few days ago we had no idea what our chances as new members would be to get any useful response so we joined three different forums
and placed the same repeated message. But we have been reading replies for nearly three hours, writing down contact information, ideas, suggestions, etc. It will be impossible right now to answer all of you on your names (well, actually your nicks, for most of you) but we will want to do it in the future. We have carefully gone through every single
of your messages with care and attention and have written down anything that sounded could help. Some of them seem so obvious now, but we could not realise before due to our frustration. We have printed lots of information. And we will keep deep in our hearts some of the emails you sent us. A few cynical in one particular forum (no regrets, though). Quite a few posts we don't understand, but we have printed them all eventually we will.
Many of you recommend that we do not show any kind of resentment. And that was our lawyer's advise too. He also recommends that we keep a low profile and don't make a public case out of it. He wasn't happy with the idea of us having posted in three internet forums, specially when we told him I was furious and let myself go a bit. He advised me not to disclose personal information or precise data. We have published our first names, that we had been in Benalmadena in the winter, etc. Somehow I had in the back of my mind that it was better not to mention our current
situation, and the lawyer asked us to keep it this way. So, please, excuse us for not sharing some of the information publicly for now. We will eventually and will give you all the details once this nightmare is over (God hear us!!), just in case it is of some use to any of you.
In summary (saving some bits out of the advised discretion), we are, as mentioned Belgium citizens and our boat is registered in the Belgium registry. VAT is paid on our boat in Belgium, of course. We never had any tax nor legal
issues and we didn't intend to have them now. He had Benalmadena as a base for some time and had a wonderful time there and left quite some friends, mostly foreigners living there but also locals. The farewell party they made was one of the most emotional moments in our sailing retirement
It is true, as some of you point, that ignorance of the law is no excuse. I had heard this sentence before. But we all also heard that "in Rome do as the Romans do". I mean, if the law is evenly applied in a given location, you can learn what your expected behave is by observing, asking, getting around, and adapt to the expected behavior. But if a country has one of the harshest regulations
in the world but you generally allows everyone to break them, it creates a general expectation in people. Then it is unfair to sting one random victim once in a while and destroy his or her life. And this is what happened to us. When we arrived to Spain
we asked and talked to people in our similar situation. We met foreign friends who have been living in Spain
for years. We even made a Spanish friend who owns a boat here under German flag without ever having had been questioned about it by the police. We called him today on the phone
and he could not believe our story. Everyone we tell of our story seems so surprised, since everyone knows foreigners living in Spain on a permanent basis on their foreign flag boats without any conflict with the authorities. Then, why us but no one else? To give you an idea of our attitude, on our arrival to Spain we found that we had to have a valid insurance
policy and ours was not. So we hired an additional local insurance
policy for the time we were here. We paid 540 Euros for it. So it is not like we were trying to sneak our way in the country without abiding by its rules.
From what I understand, the 183-day rule
applies in different ways: when it comes to personal taxes
, the counter is re-set every 1st of January, whereas in order to define your personal status the 183 days within the last year applies, regardless of calendar years. So we are not liable for personal taxes
in Spain. We have not infringed any immigration laws (as European citizens we are entitled to stay here forever if we want and any registration
formality seems to be optional). But because of my statement to the policeman about having been here almost a year we are now being considered as resident to other purposes like being subject to all the regulations
for Spaniards, which seem to be so complex that no one here understands them completely, not lawyers nor officials (and I swear this is not my ranting again, but the lawyers word which he says will be part of his legal
strategy). And since we are now subject to Spanish regulations, just like any other Spaniard, we can be accused of having violated several of them:
- We are liable to pay the boat registration
tax, which is 12% on the value of the boat as set by the authorities as set by an official spreadsheet, according to which our boat is worth 185000 Euros. So the tax is expected to be 22200 Euros!!! Plus, some fines are also possible since we didn't pay voluntarily such tax which may double this amount!!!
- We can be called liable to penalties for having violated the prohibition to sail a non-registered boat.
- Also, we can be called liable to penalties for having violated
The maximum penalty for any of these two can be up to 120000 Euros!!! However, our lawyer assured that this is a maximum set forth by the same regulations that apply to oil
tankers and is always applied at the minimum amounts when it comes to private sailboats. However, he has specifically refused to give us an approximation, so you can imagine how much this Sword of Damocles upon our heads hurts.
Our lawyer is submitting a paper (called "recurso" and could not translate for us) protesting the sealing of the boat. Then we will receive a tax assessment, which he will also protest. And finally, we will also receive the fines (the tax fines and those for the infringement of the sailing regulations), all of which he will also protest. So we have to wait to receive those assessments and penalties, then protest them and wait for the outcome on every one of these "recursos", which will follow an independent procedure whose length is unpredictable (could be two months or years). And while we wait for the outcome, the tax assessments have to be paid or guaranteed with a banking bond; otherwise, they may sell our boat in an auction
to pay for it. (Deep breath here!!!!).
So. This is as far as an art critic and an interior
dessigner reached to understand their new legal status. Honestly, I don't think it is fair on us that we find ourselves in this situation. At the consulate they said there is not much they can do as long as what the authorities do is legal other than put us in contact with a lawyer. And we already have one that we trust (to the extent that we have put our lives in his hands). We just don't have available the kind of money
we may be talking about so we can do nothing but trust our lawyer and get him all the support, ideas, suggestions, etc. as we can. So again, let me tell you how much we really appreciate the loads of information we have encountered in these forums. Thank you very much again. We have written down and printed most of it and we will process it carefully.
I apologyse for not responding to all of your messages now. We will do it as soon as we can. Especially to all of you who sent us some kind private messages. But this internet place is far from the boat and it is rather uncomfortable (we have been here sitting for a few hours and we don't manage well with this forum computer programs). We are exhausted and have to go now. We don't have a computer with us and to the extent possible we'll stick to our personal option to stay away from them. If this nightmare gets too long we may have to buy one and hire an internet connection but we hope we don't have to (it would be an additional failure).
And once this is over we will tell you everything about it so you can help others to avoid falling in the same deep well we are in now. That's all what we can do in appreciation for your response to our cry out for help.