Goodbye Belgian flag, from January everything changes


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As ofJanuary 1, 2019, in order to register a boat in Belgium, and fly the Belgian flag, it will require at least 50 percent ownership by a Belgian citizen or resident in the territory. We tried to find out more about what could represent a real revolution among all boaters by contacting Mauro Righetti of theSea Way Nautical Agency, who fleeced the Belgian “Official Gazette” (Moniteur), where Article 5 of the July 17 law says the above.

“As of January 1, 2019,” Righetti began, “Italians who would like the coveted Lettre de Pavillon, or Belgian permit to sail their boat at sea, will no longer be able to do so. What has happened? In Belgium you had two options: the first was to get this permit with which to fly the Belgian flag (it was renewed every five years, by wire transfer: you returned the old flag and they gave you a new one), and the second was to register the boat, with which you could also sail in Belgian inland waters.

For this second scenario, you needed to be a resident of Belgium. Now with the new law, in order to register the boat in the Belgian registry (thus, either with registration or with Lettre de Pavillon), it will be necessary that the ownership is at least 50 percent owned by a Belgian citizen or a resident of the territory.”

A good problem because there are so many Italian boaters who have chosen the Belgian flag because, compared to the Italian flag, you are not stifled by bureaucracy and controls. Tells Righetti, “there is no need for a safety certificate, you are not liable to inspection by the certifying bodies, the equipment on board is established based on the common sense of those who go to sea and there are also advantages on buying and selling a Belgian-flagged vessel, because registration of the deed with the Internal Revenue Service is not required, which saves a lot of money.”

One – temporary – solution could be an early renewal of the Lettre de Pavillon by Jan. 1: the new Belgian law, which will still need an implementing decree to take effect, will not have retroactive effect. So if a yachtsman has been flying the Belgian flag for three years, he can send in his renewal application and hopefully he can go another five years before he is forced to change flag countries.

“I don’t feel like recommending this solution.”, says Righetti, “because the Belgian bureaucracy’s timeframe, while fast, involves a few weeks of waiting, and since it is October, I would hate to see those who had sent in their early renewal request have it rejected due to expiration of the deadline, effectively having the years that still separated them from the expiration of the canonical five years ‘cancelled’.”

Is there any solution other than returning to the Italian flag (perhaps hoping that the bureaucracy will be streamlined?), perhaps with flags that do not require a safety certificate? “We’re trying to figure it out ourselves,” Righetti concludes, “non-European countries aside (which still have higher practice management costs), the best choice for those who will decide to stay EU-flagged, at the moment, seems to be Malta.”

What about the Dutch flag? “Nothing, even that is not a viable solution, it is no longer issued to Italian citizens., following the political querelle that was sparked when last June a German ship Lifeline took on board 226 migrants who had attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Owned and operated by the German organization Mission Lifeline, it sailed under the flag of the Netherlands but was rejected by Italian authorities.” Mauro Righetti discusses it in depth here: those who still have Dutch flags can beat them until the period between renewals (two years) expires. Presumably the Belgian government, intimidated by the Dutch case and the possibility of NGO registration of ships (if a boat flies the flag of a country, one is subject to the laws of that country on board), opted for the most prudent of hypotheses: “turn off the taps.”



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