1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Search

SEARCH, or Visit and Search, a term used in international law and apparently derived in some confused way from the French word visite, which means search, combined with the English translation of the word visite. An attempt made by some writers to distinguish between visit and search only leads to misunderstanding. Search is the exact English equivalent of visits, and in the translation of the Declaration of London (Feb. 26, 1909) the translator has rightly rendered it as such (art. 63).

The right of search belongs to belligerents alone. Its object is to verify the nationality of the vessel and if neutral to ascertain whether it carries contraband. The consequence of resistance to search is capture and trial in a Prize Court. “ Forcible resistance to the legitimate exercise of the right of stoppage, search and capture,” says art. 63, of the Declaration of London, 1909, “ involves in all cases the condemnation of the vessel. The cargo is liable to the same treatment as the cargo of an enemy vessel. Goods belonging to the master or owner of the vessel are treated as enemy goods.” At the Hague Conference of 1907 the question of the liability to search of mail-ships gave rise to much discussion based on incidents arising out of the South African and Russo-Japanese Wars. It was ultimately decided that postal correspondence of neutrals and even of belligerents, and whether official or private, found on board a neutral or even an enemy ship should be “ inviolable,” and that though the ship should be detained, this correspondence had to be forwarded to its destination by the captor “ with the least possible delay.”[1] The only exception to this exemption is correspondence destined for or proceeding from a blockaded port. As regards the mail-ships themselves, apart from this inviolability of the correspondence, no exemption or privilege is extended beyond the injunction that they should not be searched, except when absolutely necessary, and then only “ with as much consideration and expedition as possible,” which might just as well be said of all ships stopped or searched on the high seas.  (T. Ba.) 

  1. Convention relative to certain restrictions on the exercise of the right of capture in maritime war (art. I).