Saturday 16 January 2021

Dutch pleasure boat registration ‘used by criminals and drug smugglers’: Nieuwsuur

Photo: Wouter Engler via Wikimedia Commons

The Dutch government intends to toughen up licensing rules after investigations have revealed that Dutch pleasure boat registrations are being used to facilitate large-scale drug smuggling operations.

In a major drugs bust earlier this month in Spain, the Operación Goleta-Gratil, at least one ship containing 6,000 kilos of smuggled hash was flying under the Dutch flag. This and other warnings from European organisations, have led to concerns being raised about the reported ease of getting a Dutch ‘ICP’ certificate for  pleasure boats.

The registration, given for yachts and leisure vessels, allows access to European waters but critics have told Nieuwsuur that they are concerned about criminal use and money laundering. This summer this year, Italian authorities impounded dozens of boats flying under the Dutch flag because of concerns about their registration.

Michael O’Sullivan, chief executive of the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre in Lisbon, told Nieuwsuur that Dutch registrations were being used by criminal operations.

‘Certainly over the last number of years it has been apparent that [they] can fly a Dutch flag to disguise their aims, who they are and what they are, including setting up shell companies to buy vessels and register them somewhere else to confuse the trail for investigators,’ he said. ‘Why do criminals choose the Dutch ICP? Because they choose the path of least resistance.’

Dutch MPs Pieter Omtzigt and Gijs van Dijk told Nieuwsuur that the country needs to take the concerns in Spain and Italy seriously. ‘It is not our intention, but this does lead to problems in other countries and we need to do something about it,’ Omtzigt reportedly said.

He added that he took concerns seriously that the pleasure boat registration system could be exploited for insurance and tax fraud. The Nieuwsuur investigation alleged that it could be used for a ship that did not in fact exist, but could be insured and reported ‘stolen’, or sold at a ‘profit’ in order to money launder criminal funds.

A spokesman for the infrastructure ministry told DutchNews.nl that the ICP registration was the result of a United Nations initiative in 1986 to make it easier for people to sail their boats for leisure and sport purposes around 14 European countries. The intention, he said, was not for people from other countries to abuse the certification, which is not an official registration of ownership.

‘We are aware of indications from the police that foreign (drug) criminals on the waters appear to be in possession of an Internationaal Certificaat Pleziervaartuigen [ICP] granted by the Netherlands,’ he said. ‘The ICP is recognised by 14 European countries including Germany and France and is aimed at people who enjoy watersports and want to sail there with their yacht or motorboat.

‘Misuse is unacceptable and this is why we have been working since May with police and associations which grant the ICP to tighten up practices to avoid misuse and make an effective end to these practices as quickly as possible (this year).’

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