The Belgenland
114 U.S. 355 (1885)

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Belgenland, 114 U.S. 355 (1885)

The Belgenland

Argued January 16, 1885

Decided April 13, 1885

114 U.S. 355


A collision on the high seas between vessels of different nationalities is prima facie a proper subject of inquiry in any court of admiralty which first obtains jurisdiction.

The Courts of the United States in admiralty may, in their discretion, take jurisdiction over a collision on the high seas between two foreign vessels.

Page 114 U. S. 356

Among the circumstances which may determine a court below in exercising its discretion to take or refuse jurisdiction over foreign vessels, their officers and crew in ports of the United States are:

(1) That both vessels are subject to the laws of the same country, and that resort may be had to its courts without difficulty.

(2) That the disputes are between seamen and the master, and that, in the absence of a treaty, the consul of the country does not assent to the jurisdiction (but this assent, in the absence of a treaty, is not necessary when the complaint is for arbitrary dismissal or acts of cruelty).

(3) When the jurisdiction is invoked for matters which affect only parties on the vessel, and which have to be determined by the laws of the country to which the vessel belongs.

When a controversy in admiralty between foreign vessels in the courts of the United States arises under the common law of nations, the court below should take jurisdiction unless special grounds are shown why it should not do so.

When the court below has taken jurisdiction in case of a collision between two foreign vessels on the high seas, it is incumbent on the party appealing to this Court, and questioning the jurisdiction, to show that the court below exercised its discretion to take jurisdiction on wrong principles, or acted so differently from the view held here, that it may justly be held to have exercised it wrongfully.

In a proceeding in admiralty against one foreign vessel for collision with another foreign vessel on the high seas, the general maritime law, as understood and administered in the courts of the country in which the litigation is prosecuted, is the law governing the case, except: (1) that persons on either ship will not be open to blame for following the sailing regulations and rules of navigation prescribed by their own government for their dereliction on the high seas, and (2) that if the maritime law, as administered by both nations to which the respective ships belong, be the same in both, in respect to any matter of liability or obligation, such law, if shown to the court, should be followed, although different from the maritime law of the country of the forum.

When facts found by the court below furnish conclusive proof of negligence, negligence may be regarded as among the conclusions of law to be legally inferred from those facts.

This case grew out of a collision which took place on the high seas between the Norwegian barque Luna and the Belgian steamship Belgenland, by which the former was run down and sunk. Part of the crew of the Luna, including the master, were rescued by the Belgenland and brought to Philadelphia. The master immediately libeled the steamship on behalf of the owners of the Luna and her cargo, and her surviving crew, in a cause civil and maritime.

Page 114 U. S. 357

The libel stated in substance that the bark Luna, of 359 tons, was on a voyage from Porto Rico to Queenstown or Falmouth with a cargo of sugar, and when in latitude 44

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