PRIVATEER, an armed vessel belonging to a private owner,
commissioned by a belligerent state to carry on operations of
war. The commission is known as letters of marque. Acceptance
of such a commission by a British subject is forbidden
by the Foreign Enlistment Act 1870. Privateering is now a
matter of much less importance than it formerly was, owing
to the terms of art. 1 of the Declaration of Paris, April 16, 1856,
“Privateering is and remains abolished.” The declaration
binds only the powers who are signatories or who afterwards
assented, and those only when engaged in war with one another.
The United States and Spain have not acceded to it, but though
it did not hold as between them in the war of 1898, they both
observed it. Privateers stand in a position between that of
a public ship of war and a merchant vessel, and the raising of
merchant vessels to the status of warships has in recent wars
given rise to so much difficulty in distinguishing between volunteer
war-ships and privateers that the subject was made one of
those for settlement by the Second Hague Conference (1907).
The rules adopted are as follows:—
1. A merchant-ship converted into a war-ship cannot have
the rights and duties appertaining to vessels having that status
unless it is placed under the direct authority, immediate control
and responsibility of the power the flag of which it flies.
2. Merchant-ships converted into war-ships must bear the external marks which distinguish the war-ships of their nationality.
3. The commander must be in the service of the state and duly commissioned by the proper authorities. His name must figure on the list of the officers of the fighting fleet.
4. The crew must be subject to military discipline.
5. Every merchant-ship converted into a war-ship is bound to observe in its operations the laws and customs of war.
6. A belligerent who converts a merchant-ship into a war-ship must, as soon as possible, announce such conversion in the list of its war-ships.
In connexion with the conversion of the “ Peterburg ” and “Smolensk” on the high seas during the Russo-Japanese War, and the ruse by which they came through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, it was agreed, after a vain attempt to solve the question in a way satisfactory to all parties, that the subject of whether the conversion may take place upon the high seas should remain outside the scope of the convention. (T. Ba.)