1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Privateer

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.)