The Olinde Rodrigues - 174 U.S. 510 (1899)
U.S. Supreme Court
The Olinde Rodrigues, 174 U.S. 510 (1899)
The Olinde Rodrigues
Argued April 11, 13, 1899
Decided May 15. 1899
174 U.S. 510
A blockade, to be binding, must be known to exist.
There is no rule of law determining that the presence of a particular force is necessary in order to render a blockade effective, but, on the contrary, the test is whether it is practically effective, and that is a mixed question, more of fact than of law.
While it is not practicable to determine what degree of danger shall constitute a test of the efficiency of a blockade, it is enough if the danger is real and apparent.
An effective blockade is one which makes it dangerous for vessels to attempt to enter the blockaded port, and the question of effectiveness is not controlled by the number of the blockading forces, but one modern cruiser is enough as matter of law if it is sufficient in fact for the purpose and renders it dangerous for other craft to enter the port.
The blockade in this case was practically effective, and, until it should be raised by an actual driving away by the enemy, it was not open to a neutral trader to ask whether, as against a possible superiority of the enemy's fleet, it was or was not effective in a military sense.
After the captors had put in their proofs, the claimant, without introducing anything further, moved for the discharge and restitution of the steamship on the ground of the ineffective character of the blockade and because the evidence did not justify a decree of condemnation, and in addition claimed the right to adduce further proofs if its motion
should be denied. Held that the settled practice of prize courts forbids the taking of further proof under such circumstances.
The entire record in this case being considered, the court is of opinion that restitution of the Olinde Rodrigues should be awarded, without damages, and that payment of the costs and expenses incident to her custody and preservation, and of all costs in the cause, except the fees of counsel, should be imposed upon the ship.
This was a libel filed by the United States against the steamship Olinde Rodrigues and cargo in the District Court for South Carolina, in a prize cause, for violation of the blockade of San Juan, Porto Rico. The steamship was owned and claimed by La Campagnie Generale Transatlantique, a French corporation.
The Olinde Rodrigues left Havre, June 16, 1898, upon a regular voyage on a West Indian itinerary prescribed by the terms of her postal subvention from the French government. Her regular course, after touching at Paulliac, France, was St. Thomas, San Juan, Port au Platte or Puerto Plata, Cape Haytien, St. Marque, Port au Prince, Gonaives, and to return by the same ports, the voyage terminating at Havre. The proclamation of the President declaring San Juan in a state of blockade was issued June 27, 1898. The Olinde Rodrigues left Paulliac June 19th, and arrived at St. Thomas July 3, 1898, and on July 4, in the morning, went into San Juan, Porto Rico. She was seen by the United States auxiliary cruiser Yosemite, then blockading the port of San Juan.
On the fifth of July, 1898, the Olinde Rodrigues came out of the port of San Juan, was signaled by the Yosemite, and, on communicating with the latter, asserted that she had no knowledge of the blockade of San Juan. Thereupon a boarding officer of the Yosemite entered in the log of the Olinde Rodrigues an official warning of the blockade, and she went on her way to Puerto Plata and other ports of San Domingo and Haiti. She left Puerto Plata, on her return from these ports, July 16, 1898, and on the morning of July 17 was captured by the United States armored cruiser New Orleans, then blockading the port of San Juan, as attempting to enter that port. A prize crew was put on board, and the vessel was
taken to Charleston, South Carolina, where she was libeled, as before stated, July 22, 1898. Depositions of officers, crew, and persons on board the steamship were taken by the prize commissioners in preparatorio in answer to certain standing interrogatories, and the papers and documents found on board were put in evidence. Depositions of officers and men from the cruiser New Orleans were also taken de bene esse, but were not considered on the preliminary hearing except on a motion by the district attorney for leave to take further proofs.
The cause having been heard on the evidence in preparatorio, the district judge ruled, August 13th, for reasons given, that the Olinde Rodrigues could not, under the evidence as it stood, be condemned for her entry into the blockaded port of San Juan on July 4 and her departure therefrom July 5, 1898, nor for attempting to enter the same port on July 17; but that the depositions de bene esse justified an order allowing further proofs, and stated also that an order might be entered "discharging the vessel upon stipulation for her value, should the claimant so elect." 89 F. 105. An order was accordingly entered that the captors have ninety days to supply further proof
"as to the entry of the Olinde Rodrigues into the port of San Juan, Porto Rico, on July 4, 1898, and as to the courses and movements of said vessel on July 17, 1898,"
and "that the claimants may thereafter have such time to offer testimony in reply as may seem proper to the court."
The cargo was released without bond, and on September 16 the court entered an order releasing the vessel on
"claimants giving bond by the Compagnie Generale Transtlantatique, its owners, without sureties, in the sum of $125,000, conditioned for the payment of $125,000, upon the order of the court, in the event that the vessel should be condemned."
The bond was not given, and the vessel remained in custody.
Evidence was taken on behalf of the United States, and the cause came on for hearing on a motion by the claimants for the discharge and restitution of the steamship on the grounds (1) that the blockade of San Juan at the time of the capture of the Olinde Rodrigues was not an effective
blockade; (2) that the Olinde Rodrigues was not violating the blockade when seized.
The district court rendered an opinion December 13, 1898, holding that the blockade of San Juan was not an effective blockade, and entered a decree ordering the restitution of the ship to the claimants. 91 F. 274. From this decree the United States appealed to this Court, and assigned errors to the effect (1) that the court erred in holding that there was no effective blockade of the port of San Juan on July 17, 1898; (2) that the court erred in not finding that the Olinde Rodrigues was captured while she was violating the blockade of San Juan, July 17, 1898, and in not decreeing her condemnation as lawful prize.