The operator of a fishing vessel recently seized for inspection will be charged on suspicion of illegally buying "green oil", an excise tax-free diesel reserved only for legally registered fishing boats, Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn, assistant national police chief, said yesterday.
The crackdown is part of an ongoing joint operation to investigate tip-offs that up to 1,390 fishing boats could be using the cut-price fuel and costing the country 700 million baht in lost excise tax revenue per year, he said.
It is a joint initiative between the Excise Department, Customs Department, Department of Fisheries, Marine Department, Thai Maritime Enforcement Command Centre, and the police, he said.
The operator of the Cho Siphon, the boat that was boarded en route from Phangnga to Ranong, may face up to a year in prison or a fine of up to double the value of the green oil it had illegally purchased, or both, he said.
That fine could top 4.3 million baht if reports of the volume of green oil being transported, said to be 300,000 litres and purchased using fake documents, are correct.
The operator of the boat will be fined a further 12.6 million baht for breaking Section 203 of the 2017 Excise Tax Act, which is 10 times the amount of the excise tax it failed to pay.
The owners of other vessels which were serving as offshore oil-refilling tankers and selling the oil to the operators will also face legal action, Pol Lt Gen Surachate added.
The green oil was launched under a cabinet resolution in 2012 and is supplied at below-market rates to legally registered fishing trawlers to help them cope with fluctuating prices of oil.
The Green Oil Project has a total of 51 such offshore oil tankers refilling fishing trawlers eligible to buy the oil, sold at a price 6 baht cheaper than the usual diesel price, he said.
Following the European Union's issuing of a final warning, a so-called "yellow card", to Thailand in April 2015 for its sluggish attempts to improve measures to combat illegal fishing, the number of fishing boats eligible to buy the green oil has continued to drop, he said.
Despite a drastic drop in the number of boats eligible to buy the green oil from 10,459 in 2016 to 8,445 last year, the volume of it sold remained the same at 610 million litres, spurring this operation, he added.