The Manila Prize Cases
188 U.S. 254 (1903)

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Manila Prize Cases, 188 U.S. 254 (1903)

The Manila Prize Cases

Nos. 309-311

Argued October 28-29, 1902

Decided January 23, 1903

188 U.S. 254

Syllabus

While the right of the citizen to demand condemnation of vessels or property as prize for his benefit must be derived from acts of Congress, and their scope is not to be enlarged in his favor by construction, where there is no controversy in respect to the existence of the grant, a more liberal construction may be applied in carrying the intention of Congress into effect.

1. Vessels lying on the bottom in shallow water in such condition, as the result of a naval engagement, that they cannot be floated by any of the means possessed by the naval force overcoming them, but which are afterwards, by the independent means of the government, raised and repaired and appropriated to its own use, are not to be regarded as sunk or destroyed within the meaning of sec. 4635, Rev.Stat., but they may be regarded as within the provisions of secs. 4624 and 4625, and their money value may stand in place of prize and be so adjudicated.

2. The legal status of property taken from vessels in such condition must be regarded as the same as the vessel to which it belongs.

3. Naval stores -- public enemy property -- designed for hostile uses, stored on the sea shore in an establishment for facilitating naval warfare, when taken by a naval force, as a result of a naval engagement, can be adjudged as prize for the benefit of the captors.

As the right of the government of the capturing naval force is supreme, it may, when in its judgment the public interest demands it, restore a prize, and the courts cannot proceed to condemnation as to captured property restored under a treaty of peace before decree.

The strength of the capturing naval force under Admiral Dewey's command at Manila was superior to that of the Spanish fleet on May 1, 1898.

4. Cascoes, or native boats, and certain floating derricks, property of private persons in the Philippine Islands, were rightly held by the district court not to be subject to condemnation as prize.

5. Vessels performing the functions of colliers and not in a condition to render effective aid, if required, during a naval engagement, and the masters and crews thereof who have been shipped, but who are not commissioned or enlisted men in the United States Navy, are not entitled to participate in prize money or bounty resulting from the capture and destruction of the enemy's vessels.

Page 188 U. S. 255

These are appeals taken from a decree of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, sitting as a district court of the United States in admiralty, in a suit in prize brought by Admiral Dewey in behalf of himself and the officers and crew of the naval forces on the Asiatic station, taking part in the battle of Manila bay.

May 1, 1898, Admiral Dewey, being then a Commodore in the United States Navy, with a fleet under his command, engaged a Spanish fleet consisting of the Regina Cristina, Castilla, Don Juan de Austria, Don Antonio de Ulloa, General Lezo, Marques del Duero, Argos, Velasco, Isla de Cuba, Isla de Luzon, Isla de Mindanao, Manila, and two torpedo boats, supported by shore batteries, submarine mines, and torpedoes. At the close of the battle, all these vessels were confessedly destroyed except the Manila, which was captured, and the Don Juan de Austria, Isla de Cuba, and Isla de Luzon, in respect of which the facts were these: under the severe fire of the American fleet, they steamed to a position of greater safety, and, after the battle, backed ashore, and when in shallow water their sea valves were opened and they settled on the bottom. They, and other armed vessels, were afterwards set on fire by a detachment from the United States fleet, in obedience to a signal from the flagship when the firing ceased. All captured vessels not destroyed were appraised and appropriated to the use of the United States, except one or more private vessels, which were restored to their owners, and not including the Don Juan de Austria, the Isla de Cuba, and the Isla de Luzon.

May 3, 1898, Commodore Dewey took possession of the Cavite arsenal, containing a large quantity of naval stores and supplies, and some boats, and he also took possession of certain land batteries. Some of the property taken at the arsenal, besides that taken from the sunken vessels, was included in the appraisement.

The protocol between the United States and Spain, signed August 12, 1898, provided as follows:

"The United States will occupy and hold the city, bay, and harbor of Manila, pending the conclusion of a treaty of peace, which shall determine the control, disposition, and government of the Philippines. . . .

Page 188 U. S. 256

Upon the conclusion and signing of this protocol, hostilities between the two countries shall be suspended."

About the first of September, 1898, an examination was made of the Don Juan de Austria, the Isla de Cuba, and the Isla de Luzon, and the commander-in-chief advertised for bids for raising, repairing, and fitting them out. In October, he contracted, on behalf of the United States, with a dock company to effect this purpose. The work of raising the vessels was begun on October 29 and finished on November 24. They were then overhauled sufficiently to enable them to proceed to Hong Kong, where they were reconstructed and refitted for use in the United States Navy, of which they became a part.

Full report was made to the Navy Department in July, 1899, of the condition of each of these vessels, upon being raised, and of the progress of reconstruction, including estimates of the value of the vessels when completed, exclusive of armament, and of the cost of raising, fitting out, and repairing them. And an appraisement was made in that department of the three vessels when completed, giving the value, and the cost of repairs, from which it also appears that they were first commissioned in the United States Navy in 1900.

Some of the other sunken vessels might probably have been raised to advantage, but no attempt was made to do so, though a small amount of property was taken from them for government use. They were all advertised for sale in September, 1898, but no bids were received.

Shortly after the battle, the commander-in-chief took possession for government use of some cascoes or cargo boats, and two floating derricks belonging to private parties.

The treaty of peace between the United States and Spain provided:

"Stands of colozs, uncaptured war vessels, small, arms, guns of all calibers, with their carriages and accessories, powder, ammunition, livestock, and materials and supplies of all kinds, belonging to the land and naval forces of Spain in the Philippines and Guam, remain the property of Spain."

By virtue of this provision, so much of the public property captured at the Cavite arsenal, and elsewhere on land, remaining unused at the date of the exchange of ratifications, was subsequently restored to Spain.

Page 188 U. S. 257

Actions were instituted for bounty under section 4635 of the Revised Statutes, on account of all the vessels other than the Don Juan de Austria, the Isla de Cuba, the Isla de Luzon, and those enumerated in the appraisement, and bounty has been granted under that section for the destruction of those vessels. Dewey v. United States, 35 Ct.Cl. 172; S.C.,178 U. S. 178 U.S. 510.

July 20, 1899, this libel was filed against the Don Juan de Austria, the Isla de Cuba, the Isla de Luzon, all the property taken from them and from the sunken vessels, all the vessels and other property taken afloat, and all the property captured ashore.

The United States filed an answer denying that the Don Juan de Austria, the Isla de Cuba, and the Isla de Luzon, the property captured on board of them, the property captured on land, and the cargo boats were subject to condemnation as prize. March 26, 1901, an intervening libel was filed by Edwin F. Stovell, on behalf of himself and the officers and crew of the Nanshan, to which an answer was filed by libellant. The case having been heard, a decree of condemnation and distribution was made November 5, 1901, which adjudged the Isla de Cuba, the Isla de Luzon, and the Don Juan de Austria, and the Manila and all other captured vessels named in the appraisement, except such as might have been returned to private owners, and all property captured upon or belonging to any of these vessels, or any vessels sunk or destroyed on May 1, 1898, to be lawful prize of war. All property captured ashore and all nonseagoing craft belonging to the arsenal, as well as all cascoes and the floating derricks, not belonging to the King of Spain, were held not to be prize, and as to such property the libel was dismissed. The Nanshan, and the Zafiro, a vessel in the same situation, were held not entitled to share in any of the prize property, and the hostile fleet was held to have been of inferior force to the vessels making the capture. An appeal was taken by the United States, a cross-appeal by libellant, and an appeal by the intervener.

Errors were assigned:

By the United States, that the district court erred in holding (1) that the vessels of war raised and reconstructed for the

Page 188 U. S. 258

Navy, with guns, munitions, equipment, stores, and other articles found upon them, were lawful prize of war for the benefit of the captors; (2) as also guns, munitions, equipment, stores, and other articles on board the Spanish vessels of war sunk or otherwise destroyed, and not restored.

By libellant, that the district court erred in holding (1) that the property captured at the naval station at Cavite was not lawful prize; (2) that the cascoes were not lawful prize.

By the intervener, in holding that the Nanshan (and with her the Zafiro) was not entitled to share in the prize property.

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