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U.S. Supreme Court

Compania Espanola v. The Navemar, 303 U.S. 68 (1938)

Compania Espanola de Navegacion Maritima, S.A. v. The Navemar

No. 242

Argued January 7, 10, 1938

Decided January 31, 1938

303 U.S. 68


1. A vessel of a friendly government in its possession and service is a public vessel, even though engaged in the carriage of merchandise for hire, and as such is immune from suit in the courts of admiralty of the United States. P. 303 U. S. 74.

2. This immunity the friendly government may assert either through diplomatic channels or as a claimant in the courts of the United States. Id.

If the claim is allowed by the executive branch of our government, it is then the duty of the courts to release the vessel upon appropriate suggestion by the Attorney General of the United States or other officer acting under his direction.

The foreign government is also entitled as of right, upon a proper showing, to appear in a pending suit, there to assert its claim to the vessel, and to raise the jurisdictional question in its own name or that of its accredited and recognized representative.

3. The District Court took possession of a Spanish vessel on a libel by one claiming to be the owner, who alleged wrongful dispossession by members of the crew. The Spanish Ambassador, by a

Page 303 U. S. 69

verified suggestion, challenged the jurisdiction on the ground that the vessel, before the arrest, was a public vessel in possession of the Spanish Government and so immune from process. He also claimed that the Spanish Government was owner, and entitled to possession by virtue of a Spanish decree of attachment. The Department of State had refused to act in the matter, and had referred the Ambassador to the courts. At a hearing upon the suggestion and reply affidavits, the District Court found that no one had taken possession in behalf of the Spanish Government, although endorsements had been made by Spanish consuls in foreign ports, on the ship's roll and register stating that the ship had become the property of the Spanish State through an attachment.


(1) That the Ambassador's application was properly entertained. P. 303 U. S. 75.

(2) The Department of State having declined to act, the want of admiralty jurisdiction because of the alleged public status of the vessel and the right of the Spanish Government to demand possession of the vessel as owner if it so elected were appropriate subjects for judicial inquiry upon proof of the matters alleged. Id.

(3) The suggestion, though sufficient as a statement of the contentions made, was not proof of its allegations. Id.

(4) The decree of attachment, being in invitum, did not dispossess the shipowner; a taking of actual possession by some act of physical dominion or control in behalf of the Spanish Government or some act of recognition by the ship's officers was needful. Id.

(5) The Ambassador should be permitted to intervene as claimant. P. 303 U. S. 76.

90 F.2d 673 reversed.

Certiorari, 302 U.S. 669, to review the reversal of an order of the District Court refusing leave to the Ambassador of the Republic of Spain to appear as claimant of a ship in an admiralty case. The court below deemed the Ambassador's verified suggestion conclusive, and ordered the libel dismissed.

Page 303 U. S. 70

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