This was a libel in rem against the steamship "Pesaro" on a claim for damages arising out of a failure to deliver certain artificial silk accepted by her at a port in Italy for
The single question presented for decision by us is whether a ship owned and possessed by a foreign government, and operated by it in the carriage of merchandise for hire, is immune from arrest under process based on a libel in rem by a private suitor in a federal district court exercising admiralty jurisdiction.
This precise question never has been considered by this Court before. Several efforts to present it have been made
"The world being composed of distinct sovereignties, possessing equal rights and equal independence, whose mutual benefit is promoted by intercourse with each other, and by an interchange of those good offices which humanity dictates and its wants require, all sovereigns have consented to a relaxation, in practice, in cases under certain peculiar circumstances, of that absolute and complete jurisdiction within their respective territories which sovereignty confers.
"This consent may, in some instances, be tested by common usage, and by common opinion, growing out of that usage.
"A nation would justly be considered as violating its faith, although that faith might not be expressly plighted,
"This full and absolute territorial jurisdiction being alike the attribute of every sovereign, and being incapable of conferring extra-territorial power, would not seem to contemplate foreign sovereigns nor their sovereign rights as its objects. One sovereign being in no respect amenable to another; and being bound by obligations of the highest character not to degrade the dignity of his nation, by placing himself or its sovereign rights within the jurisdiction of another, can be supposed to enter a foreign territory only under an express license, or in the confidence that the immunities belonging to his independent sovereign station, though not expressly stipulated, are reserved by implication, and will be extended to him.
"This perfect equality and absolute independence of sovereigns, and this common interest impelling them to mutual intercourse, and an interchange of good offices with each other, have given rise to a class of cases in which every sovereign is understood to waive the exercise of a part of that complete exclusive territorial jurisdiction, which has been stated to be the attribute of every nation."
After discussing the status of a sovereign, his ministers and his troops when they or any of them enter the territory of another sovereign, he proceeded (p. 141):
"If there be no treaty applicable to the case, and the sovereign, from motives deemed adequate by himself, permits his ports to remain open to the public ships of foreign friendly powers, the conclusion seems irresistible, that they enter by his assent. And if they enter by his assent, necessarily implied, no just reason is perceived by the court, for distinguishing their case from that of vessels which enter by express assent.
"In all the cases of exemption which have been reviewed, much has been implied, but the obligation of
And then, after suggesting that there is a wide difference between the status of private individuals who enter foreign territory, or send their private ships there for purposes of trade, and the status of public war vessels when in foreign waters, he further said (p. 145):
"It seems, then, to the court, to be a principle of public law, that national ships of war, entering the port of a friendly power, open for their reception, are to be considered as exempted by the consent of that power from its jurisdiction.
"Without doubt, the sovereign of the place is capable of destroying this implication. He may claim and exercise jurisdiction, either by employing force, or by subjecting such vessels to the ordinary tribunals. But until such power be exerted in a manner not to be misunderstood, the sovereign cannot be considered as having imparted to the ordinary tribunals a jurisdiction, which it would be a breach of faith to exercise. Those general statutory provisions, therefore, which are descriptive of the ordinary jurisdiction of the judicial tribunals, which give an individual whose property has been wrested from him, a right to claim that property in the courts of the country in which it is found, ought not, in the opinion of this court, to be so construed, as to give them jurisdiction in a case, in which the sovereign power has impliedly consented to waive its jurisdiction."
It will be perceived that the opinion, although dealing comprehensively with the general subject, contains no reference to merchant ships owned and operated by a government. But the omission is not of special significance, for in 1812, when the decision was given, merchant ships were operated only by private owners and there was little thought of governments engaging in such operations. That came much later.
We think the principles are applicable alike to all ships held and used by a government for a public purpose, and that when, for the purpose of advancing the trade of its people or providing revenue for its treasury, a government acquires, mans and operates ships in the carrying trade, they are public ships in the same sense that war ships are. We know of no international usage which regards the maintenance and advancement of the economic welfare of a people in time of peace as any less a public purpose than the maintenance and training of a naval force.
The subsequent course of decision in other courts gives strong support to our conclusion.
In Briggs v. Light Boats, 11 Allen 157, there was involved a proceeding against three vessels to subject them to a lien and to satisfy it through their seizure and sale. The boats had been recently acquired by the United States and were destined for use as floating lights to aid navigation. Whether their ownership and intended use rendered them immune from such a proceeding and seizure was the principal question. In answering it in the affirmative the state court, speaking through Mr. Justice Gray, afterwards a member of this Court, said (p. 163): "These vessels were not held by the United States, as property might perhaps be held by a monarch, in a private or personal, rather than in a public or political character. . . . They were, in the precise and emphatic language of the plea to the jurisdiction, held
In The Parlement Belge, L.R. 5 P.D. 197, the question was whether a vessel belonging to Belgium and used by that government in carrying the mail and in transporting passengers and freight for hire could be subjected to a libel in rem in the admiralty court of Great Britain. The Court of Appeal gave a negative answer and put its ruling on two grounds, one being that the vessel was public property of a foreign government in use for national purposes. After reviewing many cases bearing on the question, including The Exchange, the court said:
"The principle to be deduced from all these cases is that, as a consequence of the absolute independence of every sovereign authority, and of the international comity which induces every sovereign state to respect the independence and dignity of every other sovereign state, each and every one declines to exercise by means of its Courts any of its territorial jurisdiction over the person of any sovereign or ambassador of any other state, or over the public property of any state which is destined to public use, or over the property of any ambassador, though such sovereign, ambassador, or property be within its territory, and, therefore, but for the common agreement, subject to its jurisdiction."
Sometimes it is said of that decision that it was put on the ground that a libel in rem under the British admiralty practice is not a proceeding solely against property, but one directly or indirectly impleading the owner — in that instance the Belgian Government. But this latter was given as an additional and independent ground, as is expressly stated in the opinion at page 217.
In the lower federal courts there has been some diversity of opinion on the question, but the prevailing view has been that merchant ships owned and operated by a foreign government have the same immunity that warships have. Among the cases so holding is The Maipo, 252 Fed. 627, and 259 Fed. 367. The principal case announcing the other view is The Pesaro, 277 Fed. 473. That was a preliminary decision in the present case, but it is not the one now under review, which came later and was the other way.
We conclude that the general words of section 24, clause 3, of the Judicial Code investing the district courts with jurisdiction of "all civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction" must be construed, in keeping with the last paragraph before quoted from The Exchange, as not intended to include a libel in rem against a public ship, such as the "Pesaro," of a friendly foreign government. It results from this that the court below rightly dismissed the libel for want of jurisdiction.