Islanders risking inferno by smuggling fuel in shopping


RESIDENTS of a Scottish island with no petrol station are risking a ferry inferno by smuggling fuel, an official report reveals.

The tiny island of Great Cumbrae lost its only petrol station seven years ago and some ferry foot passengers are even hiding cans of fuel inside their shopping.


Islanders have been smuggling fuel on the ferry
Islanders have been smuggling fuel on the ferry


The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and police have carried out spot checks in an attempt to clamp down on the practice, which is illegal and could cause a tragedy.

Angry residents of the island – which is just four miles long and has one 10-mile circular road – point out they have to pay £20 return to take a car to the mainland to buy fuel.


Many are angry that the local development company has refused to help build a replacement petrol station, preferring to back a second pharmacy for the island of just 1,300 souls.




The fuel smuggling is revealed in a report commissioned by North Ayrshire Council into the feasibility of building a petrol station.

The report by Optimal Economics gave the idea the green light, saying: “This would put an end to the illegal and dangerous transport of fuel in private vehicles on the ferry.

“The transport of fuel, other than in vehicle tanks or on fuel tankers, is contrary to the regulations for the transport of fuel on the ferry.

“It is believed that some informal transport of fuel in cans take place. With no fuel facility operating on the island, residents and visitors require to travel to the mainland to legally refuel their vehicles.”




A source, who did not wish to be named, confirmed that foot passengers were smuggling fuel on to the island.

“It is actually quite scary,” said the insider.

“Some are putting it into fuel cans in pull along shopping trolleys and taking it over. They just wheel it on and off the boat.

“All it takes is a wet car deck, an exhaust to backfire, and boom.”



Michael Bertram, of the Cumrae Community Development Company




Councillor Alex Gallagher said of the fuel smuggling: “It’s been going on for years. Fuel has been intercepted.”

But Cllr Gallagher said there had been no prosecutions he was aware of. He said authorities simply warn islanders “you’re not meant to come on here with that”.

As well as having to fork out £20 for a return car trip to a petrol station, islanders have to wait up to 11 hours to make the 10-minute crossing.



Patricia Neeson ran the island’s fuel pumps before they wore out due to old age in 2008.

She said: “It affects everybody. People need fuel for lawnmowers and power tools and cars. It just beggars belief.”

She added: “It is not comfortable travelling across on the ferry when people are transporting cans of fuel.”




Michael Bertram, chief executive of Cumbrae Community Development Company (CCDC), revealed that some smugglers also used “sailing vessels” to get fuel on to the island.

“Islanders are resilient people,” he said. “They see a problem, they solve it.”

Mr Bertram said the CCDC had looked at the plan for a replacement petrol station.

“We have had various discussions with stakeholders on this issue and there is not the appetite for this initiative.

“The board disagrees with the report by North Ayrshire Council.”



A CalMac ferries spokesman said: “We have very strict rules on what can and cannot be carried on board our vessels with clear signage explaining the restrictions.

“We carry out spot checks on passengers twice a day on the Cumbrae route.

“To reinforce the rules we also carry out regular more widespread checks with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the police.”




A spokeswoman for the MCA confirmed that two “two separate unannounced campaigns” had been mounted on the Largs-Cumbrae ferry.

She said: “All vehicles were searched prior to boarding. Any vehicles found with dangerous goods were not allowed to board until the items had been removed from the vehicle. The offending drivers were warned.”

Operators also carry out their own inspections on a random basis, she added.

She added: “As part of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency’s commitment to ‘Safer Lives, Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas’ we will continue to carry out random and unannounced inspections to confirm that statutory requirements are being met.”