ICRC databases on international humanitarian law
  • Print page
CAPTURE OF NEUTRAL MERCHANT VESSELS AND GOODS
    SECTION VI : CAPTURE OF NEUTRAL MERCHANT VESSELS AND GOODS

    146. Neutral merchant vessels are subject to capture outside neutral waters if they are engaged in any of the activities referred to in paragraph 67 or if it is determined as a result of visit and search or by other means, that they:

    (a) are carrying contraband;
    (b) are on a voyage especially undertaken with a view to the transport of individual passengers who are embodied in the armed forces of the enemy;
    (c) are operating directly under enemy control, orders, charter, employment or direction;
    (d) present irregular or fraudulent documents, lack necessary documents, or destroy, deface or conceal documents;
    (e) are violating regulations established by a belligerent within the immediate area of naval operations; or
    (f) are breaching or attempting to breach a blockade.

    Capture of a neutral merchant vessel is exercised by taking such vessel as prize for adjudication.

    147. Goods on board neutral merchant vessels are subject to capture only if they are contraband.

    148. Contraband is defined as goods which are ultimately destined for territory under the control of the enemy and which may be susceptible for use in armed conflict.

    149. In order to exercise the right of capture referred to in paragraphs 146(a) and 147, the belligerent must have published contraband lists. The precise nature of a belligerent's contraband list may vary according to the particular circumstances of the armed conflict. Contraband lists shall be reasonably specific.

    150. Goods not on the belligerent's contraband list are 'free goods', that is, not subject to capture. As a minimum, 'free goods' shall include the following:

    (a) religious objects;
    (b) articles intended exclusively for the treatment of the wounded and sick and for the prevention of disease;
    (c) clothing, bedding, essential foodstuffs, and means of shelter for the civilian population in general, and women and children in particular, provided there is not serious reason to believe that such goods will be diverted to other purpose, or that a definite military advantage would accrue to the enemy by their substitution for enemy goods that would thereby become available for military purposes;
    (d) items destined for prisoners of war, including individual parcels and collective relief shipments containing food, clothing, educational, cultural, and recreational articles;
    (e) goods otherwise specifically exempted from capture by international treaty or by special arrangement between belligerents; and
    (f) other goods not susceptible for use in armed conflict,

    151. Subject to paragraph 152, a neutral vessel captured in accordance with paragraph 146 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 captured vessel are safeguarded; and
    (c) if feasible, personal effects of the passengers and crew are saved.

    Every effort should be made to avoid destruction of a captured neutral vessel. Therefore, such destruction shall not be ordered without there being entire satisfaction that the captured vessel can neither be sent into a belligerent port, nor diverted, nor properly released. A vessel may not be destroyed under this paragraph for carrying contraband unless the contraband, reckoned either by value, weight, volume or freight, forms more than half the cargo. Destruction shall be subject to adjudication.

    152. The destruction of captured neutral passenger vessels carrying civilian passengers is prohibited at sea. For the safety of the passengers, such vessels shall be diverted to an appropriate port in order to complete capture provided for in paragraph 146.


<< Previous     Up     Next >>