1. Damages are not recoverable from the United States under the
Suits in Admiralty Act (March 9, 1920) for a collision due to the
fault of a vessel owned and in possession of the United States and
being operated in transporting supplies and troops. P. 270 U. S.
2. In the absence of convention, every government may pursue
what policy it thinks best concerning seizure and confiscation of
enemy ships in its harbors when war occurs. P. 270 U. S.
3. The Joint Resolution of May 12, 1917, authorized the
President to take over to the United States the immediate
possession and title
Page 270 U. S. 216
of any vessel within the jurisdiction which, at the time of
coming therein, was owned by any subject of, or was under register
of, an enemy nation, and this was within the power of Congress. P.
270 U. S. 227
Appeal from a decree of the district court in Admiralty
dismissing libels for damages due to collision.
Page 270 U. S. 223
MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.
The court below sustained a challenge to its jurisdiction, and
this direct appeal followed.
October 9, 1919, in New York Harbor the steamships
and Gaelic Prince
injury resulted to the latter and its cargo. February 19, 1921,
relying upon the Suits in Admiralty Act of March 9, 1920 (c. 95, 41
Stat. 525), the owners seek to recover damages. The Act of March 3,
1925, c. 428, 43 Stat. 1112, is not applicable. They allege that
the collision resulted from the fault of the Antigone.
"At all the times mentioned herein prior to the 13th day of
October, 1919, and particularly on the 9th day of October, 1919,
the date of the collision hereinafter mentioned, the steamship
was owned by a private person or merchant who was
solely entitled to the immediate and lawful possession, operation,
and control of said vessel. At no time prior to said 13th day of
October, 1919, was the said steamship Antigone,
either absolutely or pro hac vice
by the United States of
America, nor by any corporation in which the United States of
America or its representatives owned the entire outstanding capital
stock, nor lawfully in the possession of the United States of
America or of such corporation, nor lawfully operated by or for the
United States of America or such corporation. On the 13th day of
October, 1919, the respondent United States of America became, ever
since has been, and now is in the lawful possession of the
but at no time has the United States
of America held the legal title to or been the absolute owner of
said steamship Antigone.
Page 270 U. S. 224
The United States appeared specially and suggested that, when
the collision occurred, they owned, possessed, and controlled the
and therefore the court was without
jurisdiction. This was denied, and evidence was taken upon the
consequent issue. Having considered the evidence, the court held
that the United States owned the vessel and were navigating her,
with a crew employed by the War Department, in transporting
supplies and troops. The libels were accordingly dismissed for want
If the established facts show such ownership, possession, and
control, then, under the doctrine of The Western Maid,
257 U. S. 419
which we adhere, the decree is clearly right.
The history of the matter is this. The Antigone,
the privately owned German merchantman Neckar,
within the United States prior to April 6, 1917, when war with
Germany was declared. By Joint Resolution of May 12, 1917, c. 13,
40 Stat. 75 (copied in the margin [Footnote 1
]), Congress authorized the President to take
over to the United States the immediate possession and title of any
vessel within their jurisdiction which at the time of coming
therein was owned by any corporation, citizen or subject of an
enemy nation, or was under register of any such nation. By
Executive Order of June 30, 1917, the President affirmed that the
Page 270 U. S. 225
such a vessel, and ordered that "the possession and title" be
taken over through the United States Shipping Board. He further
authorized that board to repair, equip, man, and operate her. It
accordingly took her, July 17, 1917, and thereafter a naval board
appraised her. Subsequently she was transferred to the Navy
Department, renamed the Antigone,
and later transferred to
the Army Transport Service. October 9, 1919, she sailed under a
master, officers, and crew of the United States Transport Service
from New York bound for Brest, from which port she was to return
Appellants say that the rules of international law as recognized
by the United States forbade them from confiscating German vessels
within their jurisdiction at outbreak of the war, and that the
Resolution of May 12, 1917, should be so interpreted as to
harmonize with these rules. They further insist that, thus
interpreted, the resolution only gave authority to detain and
operate the Antigone
as enemy property, leaving title in
the original German owners and the vessel subject to ordinary
maritime liens. Our attention is called to the course pursued by
the British government and to certain decisions of their courts.
1 Br. & Col. Prize Cases 1; The
2 Br. & Col. Prize Cases 36; The Prinz
3 Br. & Col. Prize Cases 70, 72; The
(1922) L.R. 1 A.C. 313, 334.
Page 270 U. S. 226
Both Great Britain and Germany were parties to Convention VI of
the Second Hague Peace Conference, 1907, [Footnote 2
] and the action of the former, referred to
by counsel, was taken in view of obligations thus assumed. The
United States did not approve that convention, and the cited cases
involved problems wholly different from the one here presented.
It is unnecessary to consider how far the ancient rules of
international law concerning confiscation of enemy property have
been modified by recent practices. In the absence of convention,
every government may pursue what policy it thinks best concerning
seizure and confiscation of enemy ships in its harbors when war
occurs. The Hague Conference (1907) recognized this, and sought by
agreement to modify the rule. The Blonde, supra,
Our problem is to determine the result of action taken under a
joint resolution of Congress whose language is very plain, and
refers only to enemy vessels. It authorized the President to take
"possession and title," and, obeying, he took them. We do not doubt
the right of any independent nation so to do without violation
Page 270 U. S. 227
uniform or commonly accepted rule of international law, and
Congress had power to authorize the action irrespective of any
general views theretofore advanced in behalf of this government.
Certainly all courts within the United States must recognize the
legality of the seizure; the duly expressed will of Congress when
proceeding within its powers is the supreme law of the land.
Brown v. United
8 Cranch 110, :
"That war gives to the sovereign full right to take the persons
and confiscate the property of the enemy wherever found, is
conceded. The mitigations of this rigid rule, which the humane and
wise policy of modern times has introduced into practice, will more
or less affect the exercise of this right, but cannot impair the
right itself. That remains undiminished, and when the sovereign
authority shall choose to bring it into operation, the judicial
department must give effect to its will. But until that will shall
be expressed no power to condemnation can exist in the court."
See Miller v. United
11 Wall. 268; The Blonde,
The decree of the court below is affirmed.
"Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the
United States of America in Congress assembled,
President be, and he is hereby, authorized to take over to the
United States the immediate possession and title of any vessel
within the jurisdiction thereof, including the Canal Zone and all
territories and insular possessions of the United States except the
American Virgin Islands, which, at the time of coming into such
jurisdiction, was owned in whole or in part by any corporation,
citizen, or subject of any nation with which the United States may
be at war when such vessel shall be taken, or was flying the flag
of or was under register of any such nation or any political
subdivision or municipality thereof, and, through the United States
Shipping Board, or any department or agency of the government, to
operate, lease, charter, and equip such vessel in any service of
the United States, or in any commerce, foreign, or coastwise."
"Sec. 2. That the Secretary of the Navy be, and he is hereby,
authorized and directed to appoint, subject to the approval of the
President, a board of survey, whose duty it shall be to ascertain
the actual value of the vessel, its equipment, appurtenances, and
all property contained therein at the time of its taking, and to
make a written report of their findings to the Secretary of the
Navy, who shall preserve such report with the records of his
department. These findings shall be considered as competent
evidence in all proceedings on any claim for compensation."
"Article 1. When a merchant ship belonging to one of the
belligerent powers is at the commencement of hostilities in an
enemy port, it is desirable that it should be allowed to depart
freely, either immediately, or after a reasonable number of days of
grace, and to proceed, after being furnished with a pass, direct to
its port of destination or any other port indicated."
"The same rule should apply in the case of a ship which has left
its last port of departure before the commencement of the war and
entered a port belonging to the enemy while still ignorant that
hostilities had broken out."
"Article 2. A merchant ship unable, owing to circumstances of
to leave the enemy port within the period
contemplated in the above article, or which was not allowed to
leave, cannot be confiscated."
"The belligerent may only detain it, without payment of
compensation, but subject to the obligation of restoring it after
the war, or requisition it on payment of compensation."