Peace Conference at the Hague 1899:
Paper Read by Captain Mahan Before the Second Committee of the Peace Conference on June 20, 1899.
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It is known to the members of the Sub-Committee, by which these articles were accepted, that I have heretofore stated that there was an important omission, which I desired to rectify in an additional article or articles. The omission was to provide against the case of a neutral vessel, such as is mentioned in Article 6, picking up naufrages on the scene of a naval battle, and carrying them away, either accidentally or intentionally. What, I asked, is the status of such combattants naufrages?

My attention being absorbed by the case of vessels under Article 6, it was not until last night that I noticed that there was equally an omission to provide for the status of combattants naufrauges, picked up by hospital ships. In order that nonprofessional men, men not naval officers, may certainly comprehend this point, allow me to develop it. On a field of naval battle the ships are constantly in movement; not merely the movement of a land battle, but a movement of progress, of translation from place to place more or less rapid. The scene is here one moment; a half-hour later it may be five miles distant. In such a battle it happens that a ship sinks; her crew become naufrauges; the place of action shifts; it is no longer where these men are struggling for life; the light cruisers of their own side come to help, but they are not enough; the hospital ships with neutral flag come to help; neutral ships other than hospital also arrive; a certain number of combattants naufrauges are saved on board neutral ships. To which belligerent do these men belong? It may happen that the neutral vessel, hospital or otherwise, has been with the fleet opposed to the sunken ship. After fulfilling her work of mercy, she naturally returns to that fleet. The combattants naufrauges fall into the power of the enemy, although it is quite probable that the fleet to which they belong -may have had the advantage.

I maintain that unless some provision is made to meet this difficulty, much recrimination will arise. A few private seamen, more or less, a few sub-officers, may not matter, but it is possible that a distinguished general officer, or valuable officers of lower grade may be affected. This will tend to bring into discredit the whole system for hospital ships; but further, while hospital ships, being regularly commissioned by their own Government, may be supposed to act with perfect impartiality, such presupposition is not permissible in the case of vessels named in Article 6. Unless the status of combattants naufrauges saved by them is defined, the grossest irregularities may be expected- the notoriety of which will fully repay the class of men who would perpetrate them.

As many cases may arise, all of which it is impossible to meet specifically, I propose the following additional articles based upon the single general principle that combattants naufrauges, being ipso facto combatants hors de combat, are incapable of serving again during the war, unless recaptured or until duly exchanged.


1. In the case of neutral vessels of any kind, hospital ships or others, being on the scene of a naval engagement, which may, as an act of humanity, save men in peril of drowning, from the results of the engagement, such neutral vessels shall not be considered as having violated their neutrality by that fact alone. They will, however, in so doing, act at their own risk and peril.

2. Men thus rescued shall not be considered under the cover of the neutral flag, in case a demand for their surrender is by a ship of war of either belligerent. They are open thus to capture, or to recapture. If such demand is made, the men so rescued must be given up, and shall then have the same status as though they had not been under a neutral flag.

3. In case no such demand is made by a belligerent ship, the men so rescued, having been delivered from the consequences of the fight by neutral interposition, are to be considered hors de combat, not to serve for the rest of the war, unless duly exchanged. The Contracting Governments engage to prevent as far as possible, such persons from serving until discharged.

The Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907
A Series of Lectures Delivered before the Johns Hopkins University in the Year 1908
By James Brown Scott
Technical delegate of the United States to the Second Peace Conference at the Hague
In two Volumes
Volume II - Documents
Baltimore, MD : The Johns Hopkins Press, 1909.

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