Steamship Buena Ventura v. United States

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

175 U.S. 384

Steamship Buena Ventura  v.  United States

 Argued: November 1, 2, 1899. --- Decided: december 11, 1899

[ During the late war between the United States and Spain, and on May 27, 1898, the district court of the United States for the southern district of Florida condemned the steamship Buena Ventura as lawful prize of war, on the ground 'that the said steamship Buena Ventura was enemy's property, and was upon the high seas and not in any port or place of the United States upon the outbreak of the war, and was liable to condemnation and seizure.' It was thereupon ordered that the vessel 'be condemned and forfeited to the United States as lawful prize of war; but, it appearing that the cargo of said steamer was the property of neutrals and not contraband and subject to condemnation and forfeiture, it is ordered that said cargo be released and restored to the claimant or the true and lawful owners thereof.'

The vessel was captured on April 22, 1898, 8 or 9 miles from Sand Key light, on the Florida coast, by the United States ship of war Nashville, under the command of a line officer of the United States Navy, was brought into the port of Key West for adjudication, and was condemned upon the answers, given by the master and mate of the steamship, to standing interrogatories in preparatorio, and upon the documents seized on board the ship by the captors. This evidence showed that the steamship was a Spanish vessel engaged exclusively in the carrying of cargoes, and that at the time of her capture she was making a voyage under a charter party which had been concluded in Liverpool on March 23, 1898, between the agents of the owners and the agents of the charterers. By this charter party the steamship was described as 'now ready to leave Cuba;' and it was agreed upon therein that the vessel should with all convenient speed proceed to Ship Island, Mississippi, and there take on a cargo of lumber, and proceed therewith, as customary, to Rotterdam. The vessel was to be at her loading place and ready for cargo on or before the 10th of April, and if she were not, the charterers had the option of canceling the charter. Pursuant to this charter party the ship left Cuba and arrived at Ship Island about the 31st of March, and between that time and the 19th of April she had taken on her cargo, and on the latter day had sailed from Ship Island bound for Norfolk, Virginia, to take in bunker coal, the charter party giving the vessel the liberty to stop at any port on the voyage for coal, then to proceed to Rotterdam. After leaving port at Ship Island she proceeded on her voyage to Norfolk, and about halfpast seven o'clock on the morning of April 22, while proceeding close to the Florida reefs, was captured as stated. She made no resistance at the time of her capture, there were no military or naval officers on board of her, and she carried no arms or munitions of war. The evidence is undisputed that the vessel, when captured, was proceeding on her voyage to Norfolk.

Previous to sailing from Ship Island she was furnishing with a bill of health, in which it was stated that she was now 'ready to depart from the port of Pascagoula, Mississippi [which is the customs port of Ship Island], for Norfolk, Virginia, and other places beyond the sea.' Her manifest showed that she was bound for Norfolk. It is headed 'Coast Manifest,' and after a description of the cargo it continues: 'Permission is hereby granted to said vessel to proceed from this port to Norfolk, in the district of Norfolk and state of Virginia, to lade bunker coal;' and it was signed and sealed by the deputy collector of Pascagoula, district of Pearl river, Mississippi, on April 14, 1898, and the fees therefor paid.

The ship's clearance was for Norfolk, and contained the same permission to proceed there to lade bunker coal.

There was no evidence which tended to throw any suspicion as to the destination of the vessel.

After obtaining all of her papers in the regular way, and having cleared at the custom house on April 14, 1898, whe was detained at Ship Island by low water until between 8 and 9 o'clock, A. M. of April 19, 1898, when she sailed over the bar and proceeded on her voyage.

In the test affidavit of the master he swore that at all times before the ship's seizure he and all of his officers were ignorant that war existed between Spain and the United States, and the vessel at the time of her capture was following the ordinary course of her voyage.

The various proceedings of Congress, proclamations of the President, letters of the Secretary of State, and other public documents connected with occurrences leading up to the breaking out of hostilities between this country and Spain are contained in this record, but are also set forth at sufficient length in the statement of facts contained in the report of the case of The Pedro, ante, p. 138, and it is unnecessary, therefore, to repeat them.

After a hearing the district court, on the 27th of May, 1898, condemned the vessel (87 Fed. Rep. 927), which was sold under the final decree of the court, and her proceeds deposited to abide the event of an appeal, which was then taken on the part of the claimant.

Mr. J. Parker Kirlin for appellant.

Messrs. Assistant Attorney General Hoyt, Joseph K. McCammon, James H. Hayden, George A. King, William B. King, and Solicitor General Richards, for appellee.

Mr. Justice Peckham, after stating the facts, delivered the opinion of the court:


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).