THE BUENA VENTURA, 175 U. S. 384 (1899)

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Buena Ventura, 175 U.S. 384 (1899)

The Buena Ventura

No. 106

Argued November 1-2, 1899

Decided December 11, 1899

175 U.S. 384


In the fourth clause of the President's proclamation of April 26, 1898, issued after the declaration of war against Spain by Congress, April 25, 1898, it was said:

"4. Spanish merchant vessels in any ports or places within the United States shall be allowed till May 21, 1898, inclusive, for loading their cargoes and departing from such ports or places, and such Spanish merchant vessels, if met at sea by any United States ship, shall be permitted to continue their voyage if, on examination of their papers, it shall appear that their cargoes were taken on board before the expiration of the above term; provided, that nothing herein contained shall apply to Spanish vessels having on board any officer in the military or naval service of the enemy, or any coal (except such as may be necessary for their voyage), or any other article prohibited or contraband of war, or any dispatch of or to the Spanish government."

The Buena Ventura, a Spanish vessel, being at Cuba in March, 1898, was chartered to proceed with all convenient speed to Ship Island, Mississippi, and there to take on board a cargo of lumber for Rotterdam. Under this charter, she arrived at Ship Island in the latter part of March, 1898, and took on a cargo of lumber for Rotterdam. She cleared at the custom house on the 14th of April accordingly, but was detained by low water until April 19, when, between 8 and 9 A.M., she proceeded on her voyage. While so proceeding, she was captured by a man of war of the United States about ten miles off the Florida coast. Up to the moment of capture, all her officers were ignorant of the existence of a State of war, and the vessel, at the time of her capture, was following the ordinary course of her voyage. After hearing in the district court of the United States, the Buena Ventura was condemned and sold under a decree of court, and the proceeds were deposited to abide the event of an appeal from that decree.


(1) That an innocent vessel like the Buena Ventura, which had loaded within a port of the United States and had sailed therefrom before the commencement of the war, was entitled, under the proclamation, to continue its voyage, that being clearly within the intention of the President, under the liberal construction which this Court is bound to give to that document.

(2) That the reversal of the judgment below condemning the Buena Ventura should be without costs or damages in her favor.

(3) That the moneys arising from the sale of the vessel must be paid to the claimant, deducting only the expenses properly incident to her custody and preservation up to the time of sale.

Page 175 U. S. 385

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, eight or nine 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 cancelling 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

Page 175 U. S. 386

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 half-past 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, she 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.

Page 175 U. S. 387

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. 175 U. S. 355, and it is unnecessary therefore to repeat them.

After a hearing, the district court, on the 27th of May, 1898, condemned the vessel, 87 F.9d 7, 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.

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