ICRC databases on international humanitarian law
  • Print page
CAPTURE OF ENEMY VESSELS AND GOODS
    SECTION IV : CAPTURE OF ENEMY VESSELS AND GOODS

    135. Subject to the provisions of paragraph 136, enemy vessels, whether merchant or otherwise, and goods on board such vessels may be captured outside neutral waters. Prior exercise of visit and search is not required.

    136. The following vessels are exempt from capture:

    (a) hospital ships and small craft used for coastal rescue operations;
    (b) other medical transports, so long as they are needed for the wounded, sick and shipwrecked on board;
    (c) vessels granted safe conduct by agreement between the belligerent parties including:
    (i) cartel vessels, e.g., vessels designated for and engaged in the transport of prisoners of war; and
    (ii) vessels engaged in humanitarian missions, including vessels carrying supplies indispensable to the
    survival of the civilian population, and vessels engaged in relief actions and rescue operations;
    (d) vessels engaged in transporting cultural property under special protection;
    (e) vessels charged with religious, non-military scientific or philanthropic missions; vessels collecting scientific data of likely military applications are not protected;
    (f) small coastal fishing vessels and small boats engaged in local coastal trade, but they are subject to the regulations of a belligerent naval commander operating in the area and to inspectiorr, and
    (g) vessels designed or adapted exclusively for responding to pollution incidents in the marine environment when actually engaged in such activities.

    137. Vessels listed in paragraph 136 are exempt from capture only if they:

    (a) are innocently employed in their normal role;
    (b) do not commit acts harmful to the enemy;
    (c) immediately submit to identification and inspection when required; and
    (d) do not intentionally hamper the movement of combatants and obey orders to stop or move out of the way when required.

    138. Capture of a merchant vessel is exercised by taking such vessel as prize for adjudication. If military circumstances preclude taking such a vessel as prize at sea, it may be diverted to an appropriate area or port in order to complete capture. As an alternative to capture, an enemy merchant vessel may be diverted from its declared destination.

    139. Subject to paragraph 140, a captured enemy merchant vessel may, as an exceptional measure, be destroyed when military circumstances preclude taking or sending such a vessel for adjudication as an enemy prize, only if the following criteria are met beforehand:

    (a) the safety of passengers and crew is provided for; for this purpose, the ship's boats are not regarded as a place of safety unless the safety of the passengers and crew is assured in the prevailing sea and weather conditions by the proximity of land or the presence of another vessel which is in a position to take them on board;
    (b) documents and papers relating to the prize are safeguarded; and
    (c) if feasible, personal effects of the passengers and crew are saved.

    140. The destruction of enemy passenger vessels carrying only civilian passengers is prohibited at sea. For the safety of the passengers, such vessels shall be diverted to an appropriate area or port in order to complete capture.


<< Previous     Up     Next >>