The Steamship Roula


On 27 July 1940, the steamer "Roula", flying the Greek flag, left the port of Istanbul bound for Port Saïd, carrying commercial cargo. On 1 August 1940, the "Roula" encountered the Italian submarine "Goffredo Mameli" in open waters. It complied with a summons of the submarine to stop and provide certain information. The captain of the "Roula" was nevertheless ordered to disembark together with his crew, and the vessel was sunk by the Italian submarine.

The Conciliation Commission was established by a joint agreement of the two Governments.

Questions Submitted to Conciliation

  1. Whether Article 80 of the Peace Treaty of 23 September 1938 among the Powers allied to and associated with Italy, concerning indemnification and the rights of the allied powers for all losses and damage suffered as a result of acts of war was applicable in this case.
  2. Whether the destruction of the "Roula" was justified; whether its on-board cargo constituted contraband goods.
  3. Whether, if the destruction was not justified, it was a violation of international law.

The Report of the Conciliation Commission

As argued by the Italian Government, Article 80 of the Peace Treaty provided that:

The Allied and Aligned Powers declare that the rights accorded to them by articles 74 and 79 of the present Treaty shall cover all claims by them for loss or damage resulting from acts of war, including measures attributable to Italy taken outside of Italy and aimed at the occupation of their territory...

According to the Italian Government, this Article 80 clearly constituted a renunciation by the Allied and Aligned Powers of all claims for damages resulting from acts of war. These claims were all to be satisfied in an identical contractual manner, by mean of the indemnities provided for in Article 74 of the Treaty, and the revenue from property provided for in Article 79. The Greek Government contested this view, arguing that the phrase acts of war in Article 80 limited its application to claims arising at a time at which the two countries concerned were at war. In this case, however, Greece had been neutral at the relevant time.

The Commission refused to rule on this question. It took the view that a ruling on its part interpreting Article 80 of the Peace Treaty would have a purely legal character, and would risk compromising its mission, which was to resolve this dispute by means of conciliation.

Proceeding to review the merits of the dispute, the Commission examined the question of the legality of illegality of the acts complained of. It was clear to the Commission that the captain of the submarine had sunk the "Roula" for the sole reason that it was transporting cargo bound for Port Saïd, which the captain considered an enemy port. Article 40 of the 1909 London Declaration sets forth the principle that a neutral vessel cannot be confiscated unless it is carrying cargo that can be considered military contraband, and then only if that cargo, by value, weight, volume of freight, constitutes more than one half of the entire load. The Commission found that the cargo could not be considered contraband, as it was not destined for enemy armed forces or the administration of an enemy State, because at that time the port of Port Saïd was neutral.

The Commission did not rule on the question dividing the Parties as to whether the "Roula" was sailing with all its lights extinguished at the time it was ordered to stop. According to the Commission, the destruction of the vessel - with or without lights - was not justified. The Commission held therefore that the destruction of the "Roula" violated international law.

Basing itself on principles of equity, the Commission held that the Italian Government could be held liable for the loss suffered by the Greek Government. Furthermore, under international law, every capture of a vessel must be submitted to a judicial authority. The Italian Government had, however, never brought the destruction of the "Roula" before an Italian prize court. The destruction of a vessel on grounds of transport of contraband can only take place after the vessel has been captured, and a prize court has ruled that such capture was legitimate. It if believed that the "Roula" was carrying contraband cargo, the submarine may have been entitled to capture it, but under no circumstances was it justified in destroying it, prior to a decision by an Italian prize court.

Case information

Name(s) of Claimant(s) Greece (State)
Name(s) of Respondent(s) Italy (State)
Names of Parties -
Case number 1955-01
Administering institution Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA)
Case status Concluded
Type of case Inter-state conciliation
Subject matter or economic sector Post-conflict situations
Procedural rules - Other -
Treaty or contract under which proceedings were commenced

Multilateral treaty
Peace Treaty of 23 September 1938 among the Powers allied to and associated with Italy, concerning indemnification and the rights of the allied powers for all losses and damage suffered as a result of acts of war.

Language of Proceeding English
Seat of Arbitration (by Country) - N/A -
Arbitrator(s), Conciliator(s), Other Neutral(s)

Jean Pierre Adrien François, Jean Spiropoulos, Riccardo Monaco

Representatives of the Claimant(s) -
Representatives of the Respondent(s) -
Representatives of the Parties
Number of Arbitrators in case 3
Date of commencement of proceeding 19 March 1955
Date of issue of final award 20 October 1956
Length of Proceedings 1-2 years
Additional notes

[Note: In July 1956, prior to the rendering of the Commission's Report, the Parties reached agreement on the amount of compensation to be paid by the Greek Government.]