The San Remo Manual was prepared during the period 1988-1994 by a group of legal and naval experts participating in their personal capacity in a series of Round Tables convened by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law. The purpose of the Manual is to provide a contemporary restatement of international law applicable to armed conflicts at sea. The Manual includes a few provisions which might be considered progressive developments in the law but most of its provisions are considered to state the law which is currently applicable. The Manual is viewed by the participants of the Round Tables as being in many respects a modern equivalent to the Oxford Manual on the Laws of Naval War Governing the Relations Between Belligerents adopted by the Institute of International Law in 1913. A contemporary manual was considered necessary because of developments in the law since 1913 which for the most part have not been incorporated into recent treaty law, the Second Geneva Convention of 1949 being essentially limited to the protection of the wounded, sick and shipwrecked at sea. In particular, there has not been a development for the law of armed conflict at sea similar to that for the law of armed conflict on land with the conclusion of Protocol I of 1977 additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Although some of the provisions of Additional Protocol I affect naval operations, in particular those supplementing the protection given to medical vessels and aircraft in the Second Geneva Convention of 1949, Part IV of the Protocol, which protects civilians against the effects of hostilities, is applicable only to naval operations which affect civilians and civilian objects on land.
A preliminary Round Table on International Humanitarian Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, held in San Remo in 1987 and convened by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law, in co-operation with the Institute of International Law of the University of Pisa (Italy) and the University of Syracuse (USA), undertook an initial review of the law. The Madrid Round Table, convened by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law in 1988, developed a plan of action to draft a contemporary restatement of the law of armed conflict at sea. In conformity with its mandate to prepare developments in international humanitarian law, the International Committee of the Red Cross supported this project throughout. In order to implement the Madrid Plan of Action, the Institute held annual Round Tables which met in Bochum in 1989, in Toulon in 1990, in Bergen in 1991, in Ottawa in 1992, in Geneva in 1993 and finally in Livorno in 1994. Basing themselves on thorough reports made by rapporteurs between the meetings, comments thereto by participants and careful discussion during the meetings, these groups drafted the Manual which was adopted in Livorno in June 1994.
The related Explanation was prepared by a core group of experts who had also been the rapporteurs for the Round Tables. The Manual should be read together with this Explanation for a full understanding of the Manual's provisions.
Both the Manual and the Explanation are published by Cambridge University Press, "San Remo Manual on International Law applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea" (ed. Louise Doswald-Beck), Grotius Publications, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995 (ISBN 0521 55188 9, hardback and ISBN 0521 55864 6, paper back)