Rhine Navigation Commission Case

Docket NumberCase No. 56
Date25 Noviembre 1931
CourtCourt of Appeal of Karlsruhe (Germany)
Germany, Court of Appeal of Karlsruhe.
Case No. 56
Rhine Navigation Commission Case.

Treaties — Construction of — Restrictive Interpretation — International River Commissions — The Rhine Navigation Convention.

International Rivers — Jurisdiction on Rivers and in Harbours — Article 34 of the Rhine Navigation Convention of October 17, 1868 — Construction of Treaties — Restrictive Interpretation.

The Facts.—The plaintiffs were owners of a barge which left Kehl harbour in tow of a tug. While still within the precincts of the harbour the barge was damaged as the result of the negligence of the master of the tug. An action for damages having been brought by the bargeowners against the owners of the tug, the defendants pleaded that the ordinary courts had no jurisdiction and that jurisdiction was vested in the Rhine Navigation Courts. They invoked Article 34 of the Rhine Navigation Convention, which provided as follows:

“The Rhine Navigation Courts have jurisdiction:

I. In criminal cases, for the investigation and punishment of all offences against the regulations concerning navigation and the river police.

II. In civil cases, for the decision by way of summary procedure of claims: …

(c) for injuries which ships and rafts shall have inflicted on their journey or while landing; …”

Held (by the trial judge and the Court of Appeal): that the defendants' plea failed. Article 34 of the Rhine Navigation Convention was not quite clear as to whether the Rhine Navigation Courts were competent to try cases arising in the open river only, or whether their jurisdiction extended also to Rhine harbours situate off the open river. The answer to that question depended on some general considerations as to the construction of the relevant provisions. The Court said: “The Rhine Navigation Convention is an international convention; as such it is governed by the principles applicable to the construction of contracts. The intention of the parties at the time of the conclusion of the convention is therefore decisive. In construing international conventions, regard must be had to the peculiar nature of such agreements, and special importance is to be attached to the political motives and to the circumstances prevailing at the time when the agreement was made. In this respect account must be taken, in particular, of the competing claims of States and their consequent desire when entering into international conventions to keep their jurisdiction intact as far as possible. It follows...

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