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Convention (II) for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
Art. 32. Chapter III : Hospital ships
. -- STAY IN A NEUTRAL PORT
This Article was first included in the 1899 Convention, but it referred only to military hospital ships. In 1949, its application [p.187] was extended to hospital ships of relief societies or private persons, as well as to coastal rescue craft.
It is by no means a superfluous provision. As we have seen, hospital ships are not warships, even though they may be part of the navy. Having regard to their mission, it would have been unjust to submit them to the restrictions applicable to warships of the belligerents in a neutral port. Such restrictions result from the Thirteenth Convention of The Hague of 1907, which in fact makes an exception in the case of ships entrusted with a philanthropic mission (Article 14
). In particular, warships may not stay in a neutral port for more than twenty-four hours, save in the event of circumstances beyond their control.
Renault wrote as follows on the subject in 1899: "Otherwise the authorities in such ports could claim that hospital ships must be treated in the same way as naval vessels of the belligerents to which they belong, and could regulate the length of their stay, as well as the conditions of departure and the provision of supplies, as strictly as in the case of warships properly so called, which would hardly be reasonable. A specific rule is needed to preclude any difficulty between hospital ships and the authorities in neutral ports, and to avoid any complaints by belligerents" (1).
* (1) [(1) p.187] See ' Actes ' of the 1899 Conference, p. 32.
RENAULT added the following sentence: "Apart from the
circumstances indicated above, military hospital ships
must naturally be treated as warships, in particular as
regards entitlement to extra-territorial status." This
statement does not seem correct. In the first place, we
would repeat, hospital ships are not warships -- which
have been defined in the Seventh Convention of The Hague
of 1907 and, more recently in the Convention on the High
Seas signed at Geneva in 1958 (Article 8, paragraph 2).
Secondly, a hospital ship is liable to search and possibly
to inspection by a commissioner who may be put on board,
and cannot therefore claim extra-territorial status. This
is also borne out by the fact that in 1904 a Convention on
hospital ships was concluded at The Hague, exempting them
from duties and taxes levied by the State;