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In re Navemar

June 7, 1937


Appeal from the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of New York.

Author: Manton

Before MANTON, L. HAND, and AUGUSTUS N. HAND, Circuit Judges.

MANTON, Circuit Judge.

The Compania Espanola de Navegacion Maritima, S.A., is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of Spain. On October 10, 1936, it was the owner and operator of the steamship Navemar which plied between Spain, New York, and ports in South America. On that date, while she was in the port of Buenos Aires, Argentine, a decree was issued by the Spanish government attaching the Navemar and declaring her to be in the service of the Spanish government subject to management by the Ministry of Communication and Merchant Marine. The decree further provided that it was to be in force as a law of that country upon its publication in the "Gaceta de Madrid," which was done October 11, 1936, and that a notation of the attachment should be made on the documents of the vessel and on the Consular Registries. The master of the Navemar received a cablegram from the Spanish authorities October 16, 1936, informing him of the expropriation or attachment of the vessel and directing him to report and place himself at the disposal of the Spanish consul; he did so, but, not having received instructions, sailed on the same day for Rosario, Argentine, where he loaded a cargo of linseed consigned to an American corporation. He deposited the ship's roll with the Spanish consul at Rosario, and was forced to leave without it because of a sudden notice of impending low water. Having returned to Buenos Aires, the vessel was loaded with an additional cargo of linseed and with 2,200 tons of general cargo sent by private shippers to private consignees. The consul at Buenos Aires delivered to the master the ship's registry and roll, which had been forwarded by the consul at Rosario, each of which bore a similar indorsement to the effect that the vessel had become the property of the Spanish government. The indorsement on the registry read:

"By cable dated the 15th of October, 1936, the Spanish Embassy at this Capital, His Excellency, the Minister of the Secretary of State, informs that this vessel passes to be the property of the Spanish Government by decree of confiscation published in the Gazete on the date of the 11th of the present month."

The consul at Buenos Aires told the master to continue his voyage since no instructions had been received from the Spanish government, but he was advised to cable the Director of Navigation, whereupon the following message was sent: "Authorized by Consul General we sail for New York Greetings signed Master, 'Navemar.'"

After arrival in New York, November 25, 1936, and discharge of part of the cargo in Brooklyn, the vessel moved to a pier at Edgewater, N.J., on November 30, where the discharging of the cargo was completed December 1, 1936. Freight was earned and was payable to Linea Sud Americana, Inc., time charterer of the Navemar with six months to run on its charter. Garcia & Diaz, as agents of the charterer, collected the freight money prior to delivery to the consignees. Upon arrival in New York, the master deposited the ship's roll with the consul general in New York and called his attention to the indorsement which it bore. After communication with the Spanish ambassador at Washington, the consul delivered to the master a letter dated November 28, 1936, reading: "The ship of your command is from this date at the disposition of the Republic. * * *"

The master was requested to present a detailed account of the expenses of the Navemar.

The master also presented himself at the office of Garcia & Diaz, agents for the appellee, and was ordered to proceed with the discharging of cargo and to prepare for another voyage to Buenos Aires in accordance with the charter.

While the Navemar was at its pier in Edgewater, N.J., December 1, 1936, five members of the crew, representing themselves to be a duly elected committee, claimed authority to take charge of the provisions and pay of the crew. On December 2 the Navemar proceeded to anchorage grounds in Red Hook Flats, Brooklyn, to undergo repairs pursuant to instructions by the appellee. The consul in New York, on December 2, 1936, advanced $300 to the master to care for the expenses of the Navemar. The master reported the activities of the committee to the consul and was told that they met with his approval. December 7, 1936, the consul appointed a new master to relieve the former one of his command. Meanwhile the crew, aided by the committee and instigated by the consul, continued to assert authority over the Navemar, interfering with the making of repairs and seeking to prevent the master from going ashore.

This possessory libel was thereupon filed by the appellee, process being served December 7, 1936, on the vessel and on each of the members of the committee. No general or special appearance was entered by the respondents. On December 14, 1936, hearings having been held, the court entered a default decree holding that the appellee was the owner of the vessel and entitled to its possession. The decree was executed and possession delivered as directed.

The consul, appearing specially on December 16, 1936, made an application to have the final decree vacated and to be permitted to file a suggestion, claiming immunity of the Navemar from jurisdiction, and to intervene in the suit on behalf of the Spanish ambassador. The application was denied, though leave to renew was granted. Thereafter, on January 8, 1937, a supplemental suggestion was filed by the consul appearing on behalf of the ambassador, and a final order was entered February 3, 1937, denying the motion to intervene and to assert the claim of the Spanish government. From this order the ambassador appeals.

In filing the suggestion through the consul as his agent and in seeking to intervene in the suit, the ambassador followed a permissible and adequate procedure distinguishable from that which was held insufficient in The Pesaro, 255 U.S. 216, 41 S. Ct. 308, 309, 65 L. Ed. 592 and Ex parte Muir, 254 U.S. 522, 41 S. Ct. 185, 65 L. Ed. 383. In the Pesaro Case, a direct suggestion of immunity by the Italian ambassador was deemed inadequate, the court pointing out that no intention was revealed by the ambassador "to put himself or the Italian government in the attitude of a suitor." In these circumstances mediation through the official channels of the United States was stated to be a proper method, though it was not held to be an exclusive one. Here the consul, appearing as a duly appointed agent of his government (compare The Anne, 3 Wheat. 435, 4 L. Ed. 428; The Sao Vicente, 260 U.S. 151, 43 S. Ct. 15, 67 L. Ed. 179) filed the suggestion of immunity and the ambassador has asked to intervene specially as a party to the proceedings, seeking, therefore, as a suitor to assert his government's claim to the Navemar. Obviously, this is not merely a "respectful suggestion" inviting the court to give it effect -- which was the court's description of the procedure followed in the Pesaro Case.

In the suggestion filed on behalf of the ambassador, it is stated that in accordance with the decree of October 10, 1936, the consul general at Rosario, "pursuant to instructions from the General Director of the Spanish Merchant Marine, took possession of the * * * Navemar in the name of the Republic of Spain * * * whereby * * * the Navemar then and there ...

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