The Position of Foreign States before National Courts: Chiefly in Continental Europe

By Eleanor Wyllys Allen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE APPLICATION OF IMMUNITY TO GOVERNMENT-OWNED VESSELS

AT the close of the World War, vast fleets of governmentowned or operated vessels began to sail the seas on purely commercial ventures. With their appearance in this guise, all the arguments against immunity for governments or their agencies in carrying on non-political enterprises were renewed and redoubled. The large proportion of shipping claims which would be withdrawn from judicial settlement, the overwhelmingly private character of most claims against such vessels, etc., were pointed out by the advocates of jurisdiction. The courts, however, remained unmoved.

Before going into the juridical status of government-owned merchant vessels, it may be well to call attention to the fact that the general principle of immunity from jurisdiction and arrest has always been applied to war vessels.1 In such vessels is seen exemplified the sovereignty of the state whose flag they fly. Circumstances tending to mitigate this representative character of war vessels have not sufficed to prevent the courts from disclaiming competence. A single illustration will suffice.

Status of War Vessels

On July 18, 1901, the Landgericht at Kiel issued a decree authorizing levy of execution on property of the Turkish Government based on a judgment rendered on a contract of employment by a commercial court in Constantinople. It happened that two vessels of the Turkish Government, the Ismir and L'Assari Tewfik, were at a shipyard in Kiel harbor, The former was a transport, the latter a war vessel. L'Assari Tewfik was entirely dismantled, however, and its machinery had been removed for repairs. An attempt of the judgment creditor to seize this machinery under the above decree was

Landgericht Kiel 1901

____________________
1
For the classification of other public vessels and the assimilation of most of them to war vessels as regards immunities of various kinds, see Feine, Die Völkerrechtliche Stellung der Staatschiffe, Berlin, 1922.

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