As Italy enjoys its long summer holidays, something is missing. It's the yachts, especially the superyachts. Around 30,000 yachts have fled Italy this year, costing €200 million in lost revenue from mooring fees, port services and fuel sales, according to Assomarinas, the Italian Association of Marinas.
Something missing? It’s the yachts...
Tax inspectors, trying to reclaim unpaid taxes, are raiding marinas to do spot checks on yachts and sniff out tax evasion.
Uniformed officers of the Guardia di Finanza, or tax police, are performing on-the-spot checks, boarding boats and checking owners' details against their tax records.
The unwelcome attention has led many yacht owners to flee Italy's marinas for friendlier foreign ports, from Corsica and the Cote d'Azur in the west to Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro and Greece in the east. Others are heading southwards, to Malta and Tunisia - where they can access their boats on low-cost budget flights from Italy for a fraction of the tax bill they might otherwise face.
'We've lost 10 to 15 per cent of our regular customers,' Roberto Perocchio, the president of Assomarinas, told the Telegraph in an interview. 'This is the worst crisis in Italian boating history. The authorities are using scare tactics and creating a climate of fear.'
He said the owners of one yacht in Rapallo, on the Italian Riviera, had put a notice on deck 'Have mercy. This boat has already been checked seven times.'
Other marinas agree. 'We've lost 40 boats in the last few months, all between 20 and 25 metres long,' said Giovanni Sorci, director of a marina at Rimini, on the Adriatic coast. 'Most went to Slovenia – in fact it is so popular that there's now barely a berth to be had there.
'It's absolutely right that tax evaders should be caught, but just because you own a boat doesn't mean you are dodging taxes. The authorities are obsessive. They don't just check you once – they come back the next day too.
'You have the police, the Carabinieri, the Guardia di Finanza, the Coast Guard... even the Forestry Corps are involved! No wonder people are leaving.'
'People don't know what the implications are for big yachts so they're choosing not to go to Italy or keep their boats there,' said Cecile Gauert, editor-in-chief of the US-based Yachts International Magazine. 'Boat owners will simply sail to the next friendly harbour if there's something they don't like.'
Yes, yacht owners have a unique advantage over shops, restaurants and other businesses: they can simply sail their assets away on the open sea.