USA v Yong Soon Ee and Another (The Hai Hsuan)

Judgment Date28 March 1950
Date28 March 1950
Docket NumberCase No. 44
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Singapore, High Court.

(Murray-Aynsley C.J.)

Case No. 44
The Hai Hsuan. United States of America
Yong Soon Ee and Another.

Jurisdictional Immunity — Government-Owned Vessels Engaged in Trade — Effect of Possession by Foreign Government — The Law of Singapore.

The Facts.—The Hai Hsuan was a ship registered in Formosa. She appears to have been owned by the Nationalist Government of China, and did not at any time enter the territorial waters of the Chinese mainland after the so-called People's Republic of China had gained full control of it. At the time of the action that Government, which was recognized by a number of States, including the United Kingdom, was not recognized by the U.S.A. The United States claimed the vessel by virtue of an hypothecation in its favour. An injunction was obtained to restrain the acting Captain and the third officer from taking the vessel out of port. The defendants moved to have the writ set aside. They claimed that the Hai Hsuan was the property of a foreign sovereign State, the People's Republic of China, on whose behalf they had possession of the ship and that any legal proceedings against the vessel would therefore implead a foreign sovereign. The plaintiffs argued that there was no sovereign immunity in respect of merchant ships engaged in trade.

Held: that the proceedings must be set aside as they impleaded a foreign sovereign State. The Court said:

“By consent the parties agreed to be bound by certain answers given by the Foreign Office to the Supreme Court of Hong Kong. By those answers it is clear that ‘The Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China’ is recognised both de facto and de jure as the only Government of China.

“The ship is registered in Formosa, which is legally part of the Japanese Empire and not apparently de facto under the control of the recognised Government of China. The defendants claim that the ship is the property of the present Government of China. They base this claim on two grounds, that it was part of the property of the former Government of China, and as such property would pass to the present Government from the moment of recognition. They also claim the property as the result of legislative act of the present Government. It is admitted that the ship has not been at any material time within the territorial waters of China. The defendants also claim that the present Government is in possession of the ship by reason of the fact that they, the defendants, are holding...

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