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Prize rules: Wikis


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Prize rules or cruiser rules govern the taking of prizesvessels captured on the high seas during war. They are intertwined with the blockade rules.

Customary rules were originally laid down in the days of sailing ships. These were supplemented by various international agreements including the Declaration of Paris (1856) and the Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907) and other naval agreements during the 20th century. Although these rules are still part of the laws of war, changes in technology like the radio and the submarine made them redundant between belligerents during World War I and World War II. Still, the Nuremberg Tribunal found that these rules were still applicable to neutral merchant shipping.

Prize rules state that passenger ships may not be sunk, crews of merchant ships must be placed in safety before their ships may be sunk (life boats are not considered a place of safety unless close to land), only warships and merchant ships that are a threat to the attacker may be sunk without warning.



Declaration of Paris, 1856

In 1856 the great powers agreed the Declaration of Paris. It regulated the relationship between neutral and belligerent and shipping on the high seas.[1]

20th century

All sides signed treaties (the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907) subscribing to Rules of Prize Warfare before World War I and they were also in effect during World War II. During 1914-1917, Germany adhered to the prize rules, until it declared unrestricted submarine warfare. During World War II, Germany adhered to the prize rules for the first 2 months of 1939, and then unrestricted submarine warfare was again practised.

In 1912, British Admiral Sir John "Jackie" Fisher, by then a retired First Sea Lord, presented a paper to the Cabinet. He developed the argument that submarines would find adherence to Prize Rules impossible, for practical reasons: a submarine could not capture a merchant ship, for it would have no spare manpower to deliver the prize to a neutral port, neither could it take survivors or prisoners, for lack of space. "...there is nothing a submarine can do except sink her capture." If a merchant ship were armed, as was permitted by a conference in London in 1912, then a submarine was under more pressure to destroy a ship. He asked: "What if the Germans were to use submarines against commerce without restriction?"

This last comment was thought to be unsupportable. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty and political head of the Royal Navy, supported by senior naval opinion, said it was inconceivable that "...this would ever be done by a civilised power." It was Fisher who was proven correct.

The treaties are still in effect today.

See also


  1. ^ Donald E. Schmidt. The Folly of War: American Foreign Policy, 1898-2005, 2005, ISBN 0875863825. p. 75


Ireland, Bernard (2003). Battle of the Atlantic. Barnsley, Yorks, UK: Pen & Sword Books. pp. 6 & 7. ISBN 1591140323.  



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