Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
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Commentary of 1960 



Whereas Article 22 deals with official hospital ships belonging to the Medical Service of the naval forces, the present Article and Article 25 refer to hospital ships utilized by private relief societies (the so-called voluntary aid societies) which have undertaken to assist the Medical Service of the armed forces, and also to hospital ships owned by private persons. When such vessels belong to one of the Parties to the conflict, the present Article is applicable; if they belong to a neutral country, then Article 25 is the relevant provision.
Officially recognized relief societies can assist the Medical Service by making available medical units on land (1), and they can also help by sending a hospital ship. The Maritime Convention differs from the First Convention in that it even provides for the [p.165] assistance which a private person can give; the drafters had in mind generous owners of pleasure-craft who might convert them into hospital ships to assist war victims.
The 1907 Convention, like the Geneva Convention of 1929, spoke only of "officially recognized relief societies". The term naturally included the National Red Cross Societies which are by far the most important among the societies assisting the Medical Service. They were not specifically named, however, and the 1949 Diplomatic Conference repaired that omission.
The National Red Cross Societies are not the only societies assisting Medical Services. Others exist in various countries and more may be created.
Among such societies, the oldest are the Knights of Malta and the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. Consequently, Article 24 mentions other "officially recognized relief societies" in addition to the Red Cross Societies, and places them both on the same footing. Such societies must therefore have been duly recognized by the Government of their country and authorized to assist the Medical Service of the armed forces.
The 1907 Convention mentioned "hospital ships, equipped wholly or in part at the expense of private individuals or officially recognized relief societies". The present text speaks merely of "hospital ships utilized by...". Since 1937, it had been recognized that it made no difference who had actually financed the fitting out of hospital ships and similarly that the matter of ownership was immaterial. It is sufficient for them to be at the disposal of the societies.
Hospital ships of relief societies or private persons are eligible for the same treatment and receive the same protection as military hospital ships. They were naturally made subject to the new conditions for protection specified in Article 22 , to which Article 24 refers expressly. The comments already made on Article 22 are therefore equally valid in the present instance, and we shall not repeat them here, but shall merely point out that the Government of the belligerent country to which the hospital ship is giving assistance is responsible for sending the notification.
In addition to the conditions laid down in Article 22 , two further requirements are applicable to hospital ships utilized by [p.166] relief societies and private individuals: they must have been given an official commission and must be provided with control certificates. In view of the fact that such vessels are supplied by private institutions, additional safeguards were considered necessary.
The hospital ship must have received an official commission from the Party to the conflict on which it depends, that is to say an authorization by that State for the ship to be put into service. The authorization is usually in the form of a separate document, but a notation in the ship's log might be considered sufficient. The second additional condition is referred to in the next paragraph.


Ever since 1899, in addition to the official commission, the Maritime Convention has required a document issued by the appropriate authorities and certifying that the vessel concerned has been under their control while fitting out and on departure.
One may ask whether such a certificate does not duplicate (2) the official commission and whether it is really necessary. Be that as it may, the requirement is laid down in the Convention and must be respected now as in the past.
"Fitting out" means equipping a vessel with all the necessary equipment and instruments for it to sail.
"Departure" obviously means "first departure" or "putting into service". There could be no question of making a check of the ship each time it has to put to sea. In the 1899 and 1907 Conventions, the term "final departure" was used. The word "final" was deleted during the preparatory studies (at Stockholm in 1948), for it was misplaced and even contradictory in this context; it did not qualify "departure", but merely meant: following completion of fitting out. What matters is that the hospital ship should be examined by the responsible authorities as soon as it is [p.167] ready to be put into service, once all work connected with construction or equipment has been completed. The expression "while fitting out and on departure" must be taken as a whole.

* (1) [(1) p.164] See Article 26 of the First Convention and the
commentary on that provision;

(2) [(1) p.166] R. GEN T states: "It is obvious that an
officially commissioned ship will not put to sea until the
authorities on which it depends have verified scrupulously
that all the relevant requirements have been met." (Op.
cit., p. 69.);