No. 121.
Mr. Morton to Mr. Frelinghuysen.

No. 250.]

Sir: With reference to my dispatch No. 225, dated September 19, informing the Department that the international conference for the protection of submarine cables was to meet on the 16th of October, and to your dispatch, of date October 6, stating that Mr. Vignaud and myself had been appointed delegates of the United States to the said conference, and conveying your instructions, I have the honor to transmit herewith the joint report of Mr. Vignaud and myself, as to the result of the conference and our action therein.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 250.]

Messrs. Morton and Vignaud to Mr. Frelinghuysen.

Sir: The international conference for the protection of submarine cables assembled on the day fixed, Octobor 16, at the foreign office in Paris.

The invitations of the French Government had been accepted by thirty-three states, and each state was represented at the first sitting, which was, however, purely formal. Mr. Cochery, minister of posts and telegraphs, was unanimously chosen to preside over our discussions, which began at our next sitting.

The conference discussed at first in a general way the broad principles laid down in the programme previously submitted to all the states to which France had issued an invitation, and referred its proceedings to a committee whose report and first draft were presented at the sixth sitting. This draft, drawn up by Mr. Louis Renault, one of the French delegates, well known as a professor of international law, was made the basis of a critical discussion which ended in the adoption of the draft herewith annexed.

To this draft, every article of which was adopted either unanimously or by a large majority, is prefixed a protocol, signed by all the delegates, and it is terminated by two resolutions expressing the wishes of the conference in relation to certain points.

You will notice the guarded language of the protocol. We do not make a convention; we only make a project of a convention. We do not pledge our Government; we only pledge ourselves to submit our draft to its consideration, reserving thereby the right of our Government not only to accept or reject the convention, but even its right to propose modifications.

This important question was raised in a debate at the fifth sitting, where it was stated that each Government would have no other alternative but to accept or reject the draft proposed. The English delegates and ourselves could not assent to such a view, and it was understood, with Mr. Cochery, that our British colleagues would introduce a written statement, reserving to each Government its right of proposing amendments, and that he, Mr. Cochery, would declare distinctly that this right could not be questioned. This was done at the close of the seventh sitting.

The English delegates also objected to Article VIII of the project, in relation to the courts to which all infractions to the convention are to be submitted. Their desire was to have these infractions prosecuted in the court of the nearest port, but this proposition was rejected by the whole conference, themselves excepted. We understand, however, that the English Government will not insist upon this objection.

The conference adjourned on the 2d instant, after the protocol had been signed by all of the delegates of the thirty-three states represented except the one from China, who had no instructions to do so. Mr. Cochery, in closing the conference, expressed warmly his hope and conviction that our labors would not be fruitless, and there seemed to be no difference of opinion in this respect.

We have the honor to submit herewith a printed copy of the draft-convention, as signed by us, with a translation of the same. Owing to the delay in preparing and [Page 255] printing the minutes of the proceedings of the conference, we are not able yet to send a copy, hut hope to do so by the next bag.

Trusting that we have complied with the letter and spirit of your instruction,

We remain, &c.,

[Inclosure 2 in No. 250.]

International conference for the protection of submarine cables.


The undersigned, delegates of Germany, the Argentine Republic, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Spain, the United States of America, the United States of Colombia, France, Great Britain, Greece, Guatemala, British Indies, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, Roumania, Russia, Salvador, Servia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and Uruguay, met at Paris, on the 16th of October, 1882, for the purpose of drawing up an international convention, having for its object the protection of submarine cables beyond territorial waters.

As the result of the deliberations recorded in the minutes of their session, they have prepared the draft of a convention and given expression to the desires annexed to the present protocol, which they pledge themselves to submit to the consideration of their respective Governments.

  • For Germany:
    • Messrs. DAMBACH,
    • DONNER.
  • For Austria-Hungary:
    • Colonel DE BONN.
  • For the Argentine Republic:
    • Colonel MANSILLA.
  • For Belgium:
    • Messrs. LEOPOLD ORBAN,
    • MICHEL.
  • For Brazil:
    • Viscount DE NIOAC.
  • For Colombia:
    • Mr. TRIANA.
  • For China:
    • ——
  • For Costa Rica:
    • M. SOMZÉE.
  • For Denmark:
    • Messrs. Count DE KNUTH,
    • WANDEL.
  • For the Dominican Republic:
    • Baron DE ALMEDA.
  • For Spain:
  • For the United States:
    • Messrs. MORTON,
    • VIGNAUD.
  • For France:
    • Messrs. AD. COCHERY,
    • J. DUMAS,
    • CLAVERY,
    • BERGON,
    • L. RENAULT,
  • For Great Britain:
    • Messrs. KENNEDY,
    • TREVOR,
    • PATEY.
  • For Greece:
    • Messrs. Prince MAVROCORDATO,
  • For Guatemala:
  • For the British Indies:
  • For Italy:
  • For Japan:
    • Mr. MARSHALL.
  • For Mexico:
    • Messrs. VELASCO,
  • For Nicaragua:
    • Mr. BAILLE.
  • For Norway:
    • L. NIELSEN.
  • For The Netherlands:
    • Messrs. JANSEN,
    • ASSER.
  • For Portugal:
    • Messrs. D’AZEVEDO,
  • For Roumania:
    • Messrs. PHEREKYDE,
    • C. F. ODOBESCO.
  • For Russia:
  • For Salvador:
    • Messrs. TORRÉS CAICEDO,
    • RAYNAUD.
  • For Servia:
  • For Sweden:
    • M VISTROM.
  • For Switzerland:
    • M. KERN.
  • For Turkey:
    • Messrs. LACONIE EFFENDI,
  • For Uruguay:
    • Colonel DIAZ.

project of convention.

The high contracting parties, desiring to secure the maintenance of the telegraphic commuuication, which takes place by means of submarine cables, have resolved to conclude a convention for this purpose, and have chosen as their plenipotentiaries, namely: [See ante.]

Article I.

The present convention shall apply, outside of territorial waters, to all submarine cables, lawfully established, landing upon the territories or dominions of one or more of the high contracting parties.

Article II.

The breaking or deterioration of a submarine cable done purposely or through culpable negligence, which may result in a partial or total interruption or hindrance of telegraphic communication, shall be punishable, without prejudice to civil action, for damages and interests.

Note.—This provision is not applicable to the authors of breakages or deteriorations made legitimately in view of protecting their lives or saving their ships after having taken all necessary precautions to avoid such breaking or deteriorations.

[Page 257]

Article III.

The high contracting parties engage to impose, as far as practicable, when they authorize the landing of a cable, proper conditions of safety, applicable to the track of the cable, as well as to its size.

Article IV.

The owners of a cable who, by laying or repairing it, cause the breaking or deterioration of another cable, shall support the costs of the repairs which this breaking or injury may render necessary, without prejudicing, if the case may be, the application of Article II of this convention.

Article V.

The ships occupied in laying or in repairing submarine cables are to observe the rules in relation to signals which are or shall be adopted by the high contracting parties to prevent collision.

When a ship occupied in repairing a cable has made those signals, the other ships, seeing or in a position to see them, must either retire, or remain at a distance of at least one nautical mile from that ship, so as not to interfere in its operations.

The engines or nets of fishermen shall be kept at the same distance.

The ship to which a telegraphic vessel shall have made the said signals must comply with the notice thus given within a delay of twenty-four hours at the utmost, during which time its movements will not be interfered with.

The operations of a telegraphic ship shall be terminated in the shortest delay possible.

Article VI.

The ships seeing, or in a position to see, the buoys indicating the place of the cables while being laid down, or in case of derangement or breaking, shall keep off from these buoys at a distance of a quarter of a nautical mile at least.

The engines or nets of fishermen must be kept at the same distance.

Article VII.

The owners of vessels or ships who might prove that they have lost an anchor, or a net, or any other fishing engine, in order to avoid doing damage to a submarine cable shall receive an indemnity from the owners of the cable. To be entitled to such indemnity it will be necessary that, as far as practicable, a statement of the accident, corroborated by the crew, be made immediately after its occurrence; and that the captain of the ship, within twenty-four hours after his arrival at the first port of return or of calling, make his declaration to the proper authorities. Such authorities shall notify the consular authorities of the nation to which the cable belongs.

Article VIII.

The competent tribunals to take cognizance of the infractions of the present convention are those of the country to which the ship belongs on board of which the infraction was committed.

It is nevertheless understood that in cases where the provisions of the preceding paragraph could not be applied, the prosecution of any infringement of the present convention shall take place in any one of the contracting states, with regard to the citizens of such state, in conformity with the general rules of penal competency resulting from the particular laws of such state or from international treaties.

Article IX.

The prosecution for offenses and contraventions against the present convention shall be instituted by or in the name of the state.

Article X.

An infringement of the convention may be ascertained by all means of evidence admitted by the legislature of the country where sits the court applied to. Further statements may be made by the officers commanding the ships of war of one of the high contracting parties, or one of their ships specially commissioned to that effect [Page 258] whatever may be the nationality of the ship where the infringement is being committed.

These statements shall be made in accordance with the forms and in the language in usage in the country to which belongs the officer who makes them, and they shall have in the country where they are called for the same force they would have had they come from officials of that country.

Article XI.

The proceedings and trial in case of infraction of the provisions of the present convention shall take place as summarily as the laws and regulations in force will permit.

Article XII.

The high contracting parties engage to take or to propose to their respective legislatures the necessary measures to secure the execution of the present convention, particularly in regard to the punishment by fine or imprisonment, or by both of these penalties, those who shall contravene the provisions of Articles II, V, and VI.

Article XIII.

The high contracting parties shall communicate to each other the laws actually enacted or which may be enacted in their states in regard to the object of the present convention.

Article XIV.

The states which have not taken part in the present convention shall be allowed to adhere to it upon their application. This adhesion shall be notified through diplomatic channel to the Government of the French Republic, and by it to the other signatory powers.

Article XV.

The present convention shall be brought into force from the day to be agreed upon by the high contracting parties.

It shall remain in force during five years from that day, and in the case where neither of the high contracting parties shall have given notice twelve months before the expiration of the said period of five years of its intention to terminate this convention, it will continue to remain in force for one year, and afterwards from year to year.

In the case where one of the signatory powers shall denounce the convention, such denunciation shall only affect this power.

Article XVI.

The present convention shall be ratified, and its ratification shall be exchanged at Paris with the shortest possible delay.


The conference expresses the wish that the powers shall, as early as possible, come to an understanding as to the signals which ships employed in laying or repairing submarine cables shall have to make in order to remove all doubts as to the nature of their operations.

The conference also expresses the wish that the different Governments shall take measures in order that the track of the submarine cables be indicated by beacons placed on the shores, and that, after an international understanding, a uniform type of beacons and of buoys be adopted for the submarine telegraphic service.