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Old 30-03-2009, 13:12   #1
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Boat Seized in Spain by Police

Hello all,

We are just joining this website in search for help. My wife and I retired a few years ago and have been sailing accross the world since then. Life was heaven just as we had envisioned it to be in our fanciest dreams. But suddenly it turned into hell. We have been sailing around Spain for a while, We spent the winter abord in the port of Benalmadena (Malaga) in the southen Spanish coast. Last week we left and sailed to a new base port up North the Spanish shore. Yesterday, as we entered our new port, some policemen (Guardia Civil) in a big green motorboat told us to pull over next to the gas station, which we did. They asked for our passports, boat documents and what not. They asked us how long we had been in Spain, and I replied almost a year. Then they said that because we have been in Spain for so long we are now subject to Spanish law and it is illegal for Spanish residents to sail a boat that is not registered in Spain and we are
liable for all kind of taxes, penalties for "tax avoidance", penalties for sailing an "unregistred" boat, etc.

They scorted us to our new mooring and told us that the boat would be oficially sealed ("precintado") so we could not sail her until she was registered in Spain and the taxes and penalties were paid. I could not believe it and got furious with them and complaint and made some loud remarks. My wife calmed me down and the captain of the port showed up. Both recommended that I better let the policement do and visit a lawyer aftwerwards. Those policemen put all over the boat a plastic band (like the one in the movies "Police Department - Do not trepass - Crime Sceene", only that it reads "GUARDIA CIVIL - NO PASAR").

When they left, the captain invited us to his office and told us that he would charge us the smallest charge possible for the mooring. I said I appreciated but I was ready to leave at night and sail beyond the 12-mile limit, away from the Spanish jurisdiction and never ever come back to this stupid country. But he told us that if we did the port staff could do nothing but call the police and they would send a speed boat to catch us. And then we would be in serious trouble as breaking the seal is considered a serious criminal offense. So we had no real chance. I felt like my wife and I have been captured by the Nazis during WW2!!!

The captain called a lawyer who owns a boat in the marina. He said that he knew nothing about this kind of cases but that Spanish regulations are very strict while at the same time. And if the authorities go after you, they allways get you in some kind of infraction. He referred us to another lawyer and we just had a meeting today. He said he will study our "case", access our file at the local authorities and we will meet again as soon as he finds out what the situation is (maybe in a couple of days, maybe a week, maybe more). I asked him: "What about Spain being a democracy? What about Spain being a member of the UE? And what about the free trade, free circulation of goods and people within the UE? What about ...". His answer: "All those regulations sound nice in the European Laws, but when it comes to reality, it is the Spanish Authorities that set their own regulations and it looks like you violated them, so your boat is now in their hands". So here we are my wife and I spending our retirement money in lawyers, not being able to take our beloved boat out of this stupid country. What crime did we comit to deserve this? We sailed along the Spanish coast!!!! Aren't pirates those armed bands that attack peacefull sailors and steal their properties? Well, this is what we encountered in Spain. We had decided to skip the Somali shore to avoid coming accross pirates. But we falled in their trap in Spain, and they took our boat away and it seems they won't turn it back to us unless we pay the ransom money they want and who knows what else.

We have just left the lawyers office in total dispair. I can't believe it is really happening to us. Can the Spanish police really take our boat from us only for having sailed around Spain for some months? We were so happy with our boat (the result of our life savings) and were enjoying the prime of our golden lifes, but they seem to have become in jeopardy all of the sudden.

We will take a train on Monday to the closest Belgium consulate. And we came to this internet cafe and joined this forum in search for help.

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, DOES ANYONE OF YOU HAVE UNDERGONE ANY SIMILAR EXPERIENCE IN SPAIN AND CAN TELL US HOW THEY GOT OUT OF IT? DOES ANYONE KNOW ANYONE WHO HAD A SIMILAR EXPERIENCE AND COULD HELP US GET AROUND IT? ANY IDEAS, ANY POWERFUL CONTACTS, ARE WELCOME

Thank you very much from the bottom of our hearts!!!

Colette and Jean Christoff
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Old 30-03-2009, 13:39   #2
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Sounds like this (I haven't read the whole thread)

Yachting and Boating World forums: Torrevieja and ISDMT Tax

Dunno if this will also help.

ISDMT :: The Spanish Matriculation Tax on boats

Not to be the bearer of bad news (and I do not of course actually know what I am talking about) but I suspect that if you cannot make the boat "dissapear" (and breaking an official seal would be a very very serious step - that may make your present problems pale in comparison) then you have no choice but to pay up. My understanding is that taxes have not been harmonised accross the EU for residents of each country - therefore each country gets to set both their own rate and rules. Freedom of movement does not include moving to another country and never paying any taxes. Same in the UK and same in Belguim....otherwise everyone would simply swap countries!

In the UK "Ignorance of the law is no defence" for the simple practical reason that "It is a claim all men could make, and non disprove".....I suspect that the Spanish have much the same in their legal system. Of course if you had known that 6 months was the deadline for becoming resident, you would of course have b#ggered off from Spain before then. or at least answered differently.........6 months sounds a bit harsh for folk genuinely on simply an extended visit - but of course little comfort that the rules were no doubt created to ensure that folk contribute to the Spanish exchequer who would (have?) spent many years in Spain paying no other taxes than simply the duty on bottles of San Miguel, and you can't run a country on just that.

BTW how much have they slapped you with? Only taxes or also fines?
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Old 30-03-2009, 14:31   #3
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Many countries impose taxes or extra fees on foreign boats after a certain period of time. It would be nice if the host country advised you of this upon entry. If you are a citizen of an E.U. country, you may be subject to different rules. But, you already have a local lawyer and you are unlikely to get better advice here.

Two additional things you might try: Contact your home country’s embassy or local consulate. And, if you are a U.S. citizen, there is a Spain - U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

The Spain - U.S. Chamber Of Commerce

And an American Chamber of Commerce in Spain:

The American Chamber of Commerce in Spain
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Old 30-03-2009, 14:43   #4
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I would encourage you to seek a local lawyer to help you.

These are all very real problems that don't often get this dramatic. With most all countries taxes are a very different from criminal offenses. You start you out guilty and then they go on from there. Not understanding tax laws never is an acceptable excuse but it may help if you start out with a lawyer before you make the matters worse. When you told the official you had been in Spain a year you just admitted to a host of problems.

Legal advice you get on the Internet really won't help you now. You need real legal assistance to get out of this mess properly now that is a fully official situation. The port captain is probably correct. They would have come after you with fast boats and weapons. They will keep the boat a hostage until this is settled.
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Old 30-03-2009, 14:47   #5
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Seek Embassy Assistance

Before you do something really dumb, like try to run, contact your Embassy and seek their assistance.

I would suggest that you not refer to the police as pirates. That officer see's himself as enforcing the laws of the land. When someone who reads this forum tells him that he is being called a pirate, it will not engender any cooperation on the part of Spanish Law Enforcement.

Instead, I would recommend that you pray upon the graces of the local elected government. Explain your facination with and love for the Spanish country side, people and kindness that you have been afforded. That your extended stay was an oversight on your part for which you are regretful. Ask for their assistance while at the same time tactfully hinting that you also need to contact the Embassy and yachting forums for thier help. You would prefer not to do that, but this is not just your boat, it is your home.

Elected officials are always mindful of the funds that tourism brings to their community. The loss of those funds are an issue that bad press potentially brings about. Perhaps, there is a lesser fine that could be paid to resolve the issue. But when all is said and done, you violated their laws and when you are outside of your own country, your Embassy is your strongest supporter, particulialy when the violation is a matter of oversight.

Glen
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Old 30-03-2009, 14:47   #6
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Wow, that just sucks. To my eye, you were doing what all good torists do, spending time and money in a country. Laws like this are designed to benefit the government, not the local people. Are they saying that since you spent over a year there, you are now Spanish residents?

I hope you get a sympathetic lawyer and judge to get you though this mess.

Chris
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Old 30-03-2009, 15:04   #7
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What type of information did they give you when you checked in? I guess it's not like cruising the Bahamas, but isn't there some type of permit or visa necessary? I wouldn't assume I could just sail up to Canada or down to Mexico and stay as long as I felt like it. What am I missing? Is the confusion because of the EU?
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Old 30-03-2009, 15:17   #8
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This is from Noonsight: EU vessels

A boat owned by a resident of the EU has the right to free movement throughout the EU, provided VAT has been paid on that vessel in one of the EU countries. Although there is no legal time limit on the length of time a EU registered boat, VAT paid, can spend in any EU country, it appears that some countries occasionally enforce local regulations once the boat has been in that country for six months.

Although the new regulations came into force in 1993, considerable confusion still reigns. This should improve once the VAT situation is cleared up as there are thousands of boats belonging to EU residents who, for some reason or other, have not paid VAT on their boats. In many cases these boats are based in another EU country than the one where the owner resides and therefore they are liable to VAT. The rules are very clear and a boat belonging to a EU citizen, or flying the flag of a EU country, must be VAT paid. This means that both in home waters and when sailing between any EU countries, such boats should carry evidence of VAT payment. This could be the original boatbuilder's receipt or paid invoice, or some other original document showing clearly that VAT has been paid. Those who are exempt from this rule must have on board a document issued by customs or the relevant authority stating the reasons for such exemption.
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Old 30-03-2009, 15:18   #9
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You don't tell us what country you are from nor how long you have been in Spain or Europe.

I think its 3 months an non-EU boat can stay in Europe before needing to pay tax.

I think most boats cruising would know how long they can stay. Over-stayers are not welcome anywhere.


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Old 30-03-2009, 15:25   #10
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I would suggest that you not refer to the police as pirates. ...Glen
I am with Glen here!
Not only that, I might suggest a letter of apology to the Police for your husbands attitude. It doesn't matter how hard it is to write, nor how warranted in your mind.
If that letter is sent immediately so its received before your next dealings it might be helpful. It sure can't hurt.


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Old 30-03-2009, 15:29   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MarkJ View Post
You don't tell us what country you are from nor how long you have been in Spain or Europe.
OP mentioned planning to visit the Belgian Consulate.

Of course boats and people have two very different sets of rules to think about - even if the same nationality.
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Old 30-03-2009, 15:32   #12
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I really hope that you can get your boat back soon thru a lawyer in Spain, I am also hoping we can all learn a important lesson from this unfortunate occurrence. Do keep us posted and be reminded every single situation in life has a way around it except death.

You and your fine will be fine.

I thought that the problem I am having here at the marina with the ants trying to eat my boat and me was the worst in the world, there are even worse situations...a matter of perspective.

I got to go and catch more ants....
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Old 30-03-2009, 16:30   #13
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Collette and Jean,

Very sorry to hear about your problem. I am not an expert but have been researching the issues around cruising Europe with plans to cross from the US in a couple of years. From my research it sounds like you have violated the laws of Spain and the EU. Many countries including the US have restrictions on cruising time limits, taxes, etc. so I would not hold this part against the Spanish authorities. In fact in the US even a US documented vessel can be liable for fees and taxes from different US states if you stay more than 90 days in a new state.

Unfortunately it also sounds like the Spanish authorities want to penalize you severely for what seems to you a minor oversight. I think your best option is to continue your current plan. Find a local lawyer who knows the local laws and probably also knows the local officials on a personal basis. Do not be confrontational or rude but apologize and ask the local officials for help and forgiveness. From my experience the harder you push the harder they will push back.

I know there are many European sailors on this forum including some from Spain. Hopefully one of them will see your post and reply. I do have some very good friends from Spain that I will be seeing in the US this week. If you like I can ask them if they have any advise or recommendations.

Good luck,

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Old 30-03-2009, 16:50   #14
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Disclaimer: an inexperienced noob who knows little about the situation, so this is likely horrible advice (just an idea):

Could you try playing the bumbling American card and lie?

Most officials are probably sympathetic to your situation, are themselves frustrated with the laws, and will gladly take any justifiable excuse to let you off the hook (literally!)

"Oh you meant contiguous time spent in Spain?! What a silly misunderstanding, I thought you meant total time in Spain! I forgot to mention our trip to {Morocco, France, Portugal, Sardinia, fishing in the Med / Atlantic, wherever} last autumn. Sorry for the confusion, see you later!"
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Old 30-03-2009, 16:55   #15
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By taking your problem Public over what appears to be an obvious infraction you are trying to challenge authorities, who may decide to make an example of you.

I strongly advise you focus on the legal facts, mend fences and swallow your pride.

Best of luck!
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