No. 146.
Mr. Morton to Mr. Frelinghuysen.

No. 441.]

Sir: Referring to your telegram of September 26, authorizing Mr. Vignaud and myself to attend the conference for the protection of submarine cables, and also to your No. 359 of October 1, inclosing our formal powers to negotiate, conclude and sign the same subject to the ratification of the President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, I have the honor to send herewith a joint report of Mr. Vignaud and myself reporting our action in the conference, and transmitting a copy of the convention as signed on the 26th of October.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 441.]

Messrs. Morton and Vignaud to Mr. Frelinghuysen.

Sir: The second session of the international conference for the protection of submarine cables was opened at Paris, on the 16th of October last, in one of the large halls of the French foreign office. The states represented were thirty-three in all. [Page 286] Switzerland and Guatemala were not present this year. Persia was not represented last year, but was present at this conference.

Mr. Cochery, in resuming the chair, explained that the convention signed the 2d of November, 1882, had met the approval of all the states parties to it, but that some of them had proposed certain modifications and additions, which it was now the object of the conference to examine and decide upon.

The conference proceeded at once to its task, each article of the draft convention being read in its order and taken up.

Articles I, II, III, and IV were approved without any change. In Article V some verbal alterations were made at the suggestion of Great Britain. Articles VI and VII were also approved without any changes.

To Article VIII the British delegates proposed to adhere conditionally; that is to say, if it was supplemented by such international agreements as may sufficiently provide for the case, not governed by the proposed convention, of a person injuring, within territorial waters, any cable within the definition contained in Article I, and afterwards escaping from the particular territorial jurisdiction to that of another state, a party to the convention. “This object,” said Her Majesty’s delegates, “will not be completely attained if the provisions made for it are limited to the case of the offender being a subject of the state in which he is found. An Englishman destroying a cable between France and England, in French waters, might, e. g., escape to Portugal or Belgium. Such a case might be provided for by an extradition agreement, if that were found practicable, or by a special penal law, making such an offender punishable, without distinction of nationality, in the country where he may happen to be. On principle, extradition would appear to Her Majesty’s Government to be the better way of meeting the case.”

But this suggestion, though well founded in justice, was liable to two serious objections. First, it violated this principle of international law, that offenses committed in one country, or in its territorial waters, are only amenable to the courts of that country; and second, it referred to a subject foreign to the object of the convention, which had only to deal with offenses committed on the high seas. It was therefore agreed that the suggestion of Great Britain would be made in the shape of a recommendation of the conference to the powers signing the convention.

It will be found in that form at the end of that convention, with the two other recommendations agreed upon in the last session.

Article IX was ratified without any change.

Article X, which is relative to the means of verifying offenses against the convention, gave occasion to an important debate. The British Government, considering the wording of this article as too vague and uncertain, had proposed as a substitute an article authorizing the officers of the ship verifying infractions to the convention to exact the production of papers establishing the nationality of the offending vessel, and also to search such vessel, if necessary, to obtain evidence of its guilt.

This article, which the British cabinet communicated in advance to the different Governments represented at the conference, had been assented to by Denmark and the Argentine Republic.

Although we had not received from the Department any intimation bearing upon the subject, we deemed it our duty to oppose the article in its main feature before we were aware of the views of other powers, but in so doing we were careful to state that we were not acting under instructions. We added, however, that should the proposition of Great Britain be confined to its first part, giving the right to exact the production of papers showing the nationality of an offending vessel, we would accept it.

In presence of the almost unanimous opposition made to their proposition, the British delegates withdrew its objectionable clause, and asked that the remaining part and the original text of Article X be referred to a committee of arrangement, which committee reported the next day the article as it now stands.

Articles XI, XII, XIII, XIV, and XV were adopted without modification. The British delegates had proposed, at first, an amendment to Article XV, the object of which was to make the enforcement of the convention by each contracting state conditional upon the necessary powers being given by the proper legislative authority of that state. But this amendment was withdrawn after a short debate, as it appeared to be open to many objections.

All the articles of the draft-convention having been received and their wording fixed definitively, except the 16th and last, which is purely formal, the British delegates submitted to the conference two additional articles, one relative to the position of the contracting parties in case of war, the other stating that the stipulations of the convention were not applicable to certain English colonies, but could be made applicable to them upon notice being given in a stated time.

It was suggested at first that this last article should be annexed to the convention in the shape of a protocol, because the English colonies were not independent states, but the commissioners of Canada having remarked that the British colonies differed [Page 287] from others in this, that they were political communities governing themselves, the article was accepted as presented, but with the understanding that when the convention should be signed diplomatically its proper place would be determined.

The other proposition of Great Britain caused a long and earnest debate, which occupied nearly the whole of the last sittings of the conference. It was in the following terms:

“The high contracting parties further agree that the present convention shall not be obligatory as regards any power if and whilst it is engaged in war, provided that notice has been given by such power to the other powers of its withdrawal during the time of war.

“The convention shall remain in force as between these other powers unless terminated as provided in Article XV.”

To understand the full bearing of this proposition it is necessary to recall here a declaration submitted last year to the conference by England herself, which, after being assented to without any objection, was ordered to be printed in the journal of the sitting,

It was made by the first British delegate, Mr. Kennedy, and reads as follows:

“In order to avoid all possible misunderstanding, I think it would be useful to declare formally, before reading the project of convention, that this convention for the protection of submarine cables which we are going to submit to our respective Governments, will be applicable only during peace.”

We did not, last year, interpret this declaration as meaning that in case of war between two of the contracting powers the convention would cease to be binding upon all countries parties to it; we could not imagine that from the moment Costa Rica, for instance, would open hostilities against Uruguay the convention would cease to be binding upon the United States and all the other Governments parties to it. But others did, and although Mr. Kennedy himself declared emphatically that he never had any such intention, the president ruled the language of the declaration was liable to this construction.

It was, therefore, to remove this misunderstanding, and to establish plainly that a belligerent could release himself from the obligation imposed by the convention, without impairing these obligations for all the non-belligerent parties to the convention, that England proposed the additional article above mentioned.

With this explanation it would seem that no reasonable objection could be made to the article, and, indeed, it met the approval of nearly the whole of the conference. But unfortunately the German delegate could not be persuaded to accept it. He declared we had been convened to make a convention for time of peace, and that he could not consent to any article having in view a possible state of war. If we insisted, he said, upon such an article being introduced in the convention, he could neither sign it nor recommend it to his Government. He intrenched himself in that position, from which nothing could draw him out. With the hope of conciliating him the refined scholars of the French delegation tried to turn the difficulty by shaping the proposition differently, but he resisted the temptation of their adroit language. The sense of the conference was taken and found to be overwhelmingly against him, but he was not moved. Finally, as he would not yield to us we had to yield to him. The British delegates withdrew their proposition, but announced that their Government would bring the subject diplomatically before the high contracting parties.

Nothing remaining for examination but the sixteenth and last article, it was so modified as to state that the ratification would be exchanged within one year from the day of the signature, meaning thereby the final signature of the instrument itself.

A protocol was then framed stating that the members of the conference had met on the 26th of October, 1883, to revise the project of convention signed on the 2d of Novvember last, and that having examined the remarks made by different states, they had agreed upon the project of convention which they engage themselves to recommend to their respective Governments for ratification.

It was also agreed upon, 1st, that the draft we were about to recommend was final. It cannot be revised again. The Governments to which it is submitted in its present form will have to accept it as it is or reject it. 2d, that the signature of the instrument would take place three months after the signature of the protocol.

We signed this protocol on the 26th of October, and as our powers are to that effect we shall also sign the instrument itself at the expiration of the delay above mentioned, unless otherwise instructed.

We retain the original paper bearing our signature and those of our colleagues, as it still awaits the signature of the minister of Persia, who is at present too ill to give it, but send a printed copy of both the protocol and convention, with the English translation of the same, as agreed upon with the British delegates.

If we had not daily hoped that the Persian minister would have been able to sign, this report would have been made earlier. Apologizing for this unavoidable delay,

We have, &c.,

[Page 288]
[Inclosure 2 in No. 441.—Translation.]

International conference for the protection of submarine cables.


The undersigned, delegates of the United States of America, Germany, the Argentine Republic, Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Spain, the United States of Colombia, France, Great Britain, Greece, British India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Norway, the Netherlands, Persia, Portugal, Roumania, Russia, San Salvador, Servia, Sweden, Turkey and Uruguay, assembled at Paris, on the 16th of October, 1883, for the purpose of revising the draft-international-convention for the protection of submarine cables beyond territorial waters, and the recommendations annexed to the protocol signed at Paris on the 2d of November, 1882.

As the result of their discussions with regard to the observations offered by several states, they have drawn up the draft convention and the recommendations which are annexed to the present protocol, and which they undertake to recommend for adoption to their respective Governments.

  • United States:
    • L. P. MORTON.
  • Germany:
  • Argentine Republic:
    • M. BALCARCE.
  • Austria-Hungary:
    • PEREIRA.
  • Belgium:
  • Brazil:
    • Viscount DE NIOAC.
  • Canada:
  • China:
  • Costa Rica:
    • SOMZÉE.
  • Denmark:
    • KNUTH.
  • Dominican Republic:
  • Spain:
  • United States of Colombia:
  • France:
    • AD. COCHERY,
    • CLAVERY,
    • BERGON,
    • L. RENAULT,
  • Great Britain:
    • C. M. KENNEDY,
  • Greece:
    • C. CRIÉSIS,
  • British India:
  • Italy:
  • Japan:
    • F. MARSHALL.
  • Mexico:
    • E. VELASCO.
  • Nicaragua:
    • BAILLE.
  • Norway:
    • Dr. O. J. BROCH.
  • The Netherlands.
  • Persia:
    • ––– –––.
  • Portugal:
  • Roumania:
  • Russia:
    • Prince ORLOFF.
  • San Salvador:
  • Servia:
  • Sweden:
    • T. W. STAAFF.
  • Turkey:
    • MISSAK.
  • Uruguay:
    • JUAN J. DIAZ.



The high contracting parties, desiring to insure the maintenance of telegraphic communication by means of submarine cables, have resolved to conclude a convention for the purpose, and have named, &c.

Article I.

The present convention applies outside territorial waters to all legally established cables landed on the territories, colonies, or possessions of one or more of the high contracting parties.

Article II.

It is a punishable offense to break or injure a submarine cable willfully or by culpable negligence, so as to interrupt or obstruct telegraphic communication, either wholly or partially, such punishment being without prejudice to any civil action for damages.

This provision does not apply to cases where those who break or injure a cable do so with the lawful object of saving their lives or their ship, after they have taken every necessary precaution to avoid so breaking or injuring the cable.

Article III.

The high contracting parties undertake that, on granting a concession for landing a submarine cable, they will insist upon proper peasures of safety being taken, both as regards the track of the cable and its dimensions.

Article IV.

The owner of a cable who, on laying or repairing his own cable, breaks or injures another cable, must bear the cost of repairing the breakage or injury, without prejudice to the application, if need be, of Article II of the present convention.

Article V.

Vessels engaged in laying or repairing submarine cables shall conform to the regulations as to signals which have been or may be adopted by mutual agreement among the high contracting parties, with the view of preventing collisions at sea.

When a ship engaged in repairing a cable exhibits the said signals, other vessels which see them shall withdraw to or keep beyond a distance of one nautical mile at least from the ship in question, so as not to interfere with her operations.

Fishing gear and nets shall be kept at the same distance.

[Page 290]

Nevertheless fishing vessels which see or are able to see a telegraph ship exhibiting the said signals, shall be allowed a period of twenty-four hours at most within which to obey the notice so given, during which time she shall not be interfered with in any way.

The operations of the telegraph ships shall be completed as quickly as possible.

Article VI.

Vessels which see or are able to see the buoys, showing the position of a cable when the latter is being laid, is out of order, or is broken, shall keep beyond a distance of one-quarter of a nautical mile at least from the said buoys.

Fishing nets and gear shall be kept at the same distance.

Article VII.

Owners of ships or vessels who, can prove that they have sacrificed an anchor, a net, or other fishing, gear in order to avoid injuring a submarine cable, shall receive compensation from the owners of the cable.

To be entitled to such compensation a statement, supported by the evidence of the crew, must, whenever possible, be drawn up immediately after the occurrence, and the master must, within twenty-four hours after arriving at his destination, or on next putting into a port, make a declaration to the proper authorities.

The latter shall communicate the information to the consular authorities of the country to which the owner of the cable belongs.

Article VIII.

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

It is moreover understood that in cases where the provisions in the previous paragraph cannot apply, offenses against the present convention will be dealt with in each of the contracting states in accordance, so far as the subjects and citizens of those states respectively are concerned, with the general rules of competence prescribed by the municipal laws of that state or by international treaties.

Article IX.

Prosecutions for infractions provided against by Articles II, V, and VI of the present convention shall be instituted by the state or in its name.

Article X.

Offenses against the present convention may be verified by all means of proof allowed by the laws of the country of the court of competent jurisdiction. When the officers commanding the ships of war, or ships specially commissioned for the purpose by one of the high contracting parties, have reason to believe that an infraction of the measures provided for in the present convention has been committed by a vessel other than a vessel of war, they may demand from the captain or master the production of the official documents proving the nationality of the said vessel. The fact of such document having been exhibited shall then be indorsed upon it immediately. Further formal statements of the fact of any offense may be prepared by the said officer whatever may be the nationality of the vessel on board of which the offense has been committed. These formal statements shall be drawn up in the form and in the language used in the country to which the officer making them belongs; they may be considered as evidence in the country where they are adduced in accordance with the laws of that country. The accused and the witnesses shall have the right to add or to have added thereto, in their own language, any explanations they may consider useful. These declarations shall be duly signed.

Article XI.

The proceedings and trial in cases 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 for insuring the execution of the present convention, and especially for punishing by either fine or imprisonment, or both, those who contravene the provisions of Articles II, V, and VI.

[Page 291]

Article XIII.

The high contracting parties will communicate laws already made, or which may hereafter be made, in their respective countries, relating to the object of the present convention.

Article XIV.

States which have not signed the present convention may adhere to it on making a request to that effect. This adhesion shall be notified diplomatically to the Government of the French Republic, and by the latter to the other signatory powers.

Article XV.

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

It shall remain in force for five years from that day, and unless any of the high contracting parties have announced twelve months before, the expiration of the said period of five years, its intention to terminate its operation, it shall continue in force for a period of four years, and so on from year to year.

If one of the signatory powers denounce the convention, such denunciation shall have effect only as regards that power.

Article XVI.

The present convention shall be ratified, and the ratification exchanged at Paris, with as little delay as possible, and, at the latest, at the expiration of a year after the signature thereof.

Additional Article.

The stipulations of the present convention shall be applicable, in conformity with Article I, to the colonies and possessions of Her Britannic Majesty, with the exception of those hereinafter mentioned, namely, Canada, Newfoundland, the Cape, Natal, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia, New Zealand: provided always, that the stipulations of the present convention shall be applicable to any of the above-named colonies or possessions on whose behalf notice to that effect shall have been given by Her Britannic Majesty’s representative at Paris to the French minister of foreign affairs.

Each of the above-named colonies or foreign possessions which may have acceded to the present convention shall be at liberty to withdraw from it in the same manner as the powers parties to it. In the event of any of the said colonies or possessions desiring to withdraw from the convention, a notification to that effect shall be made by Her Britannic Majesty’s representative at Paris to the French minister for foreign affairs.


The conference recommends that the different Governments should decide in what case or under what conditions the persons guilty of breaking or of injuring submarine cables either on the high seas or within territorial waters shall be punished or surrendered if they have escaped from the jurisdiction of the competent authorities.

The conference further recommends that the powers should agree as soon as possible upon the adoption of signals to be exhibited by vessels laying or repairing submarine cables, with a view of avoiding all doubt as to the nature of their operations.

The conference recommends finally that the different Governments should take measures to cause the direction of submarine cables to be indicated by beacons placed on the coasts, and that, by international agreement, a uniform type of beacons and buoys should be adopted for the submarine telegraph service.