Facts: Hess was carrying oil from Alaska, around the southern tip of South America, to the U.S. Virgin Islands. There was an armed conflict between Argentina & UK, and to protect US interests, the US Maritime Administration gave both UK and Argentina a list of vessels that would be passing through, and the list included Hess's ship, Hercules, to ensure the neutral vessel wouldn’t be attacked. On a trip back to Alaska, Hercules was attacked by Argentine aircraft. The damaged vessel sought refuge in Brazil, and in addition to the damages the vessel sustained, there was an undetonated bomb in one of the tanks. It was determined unreasonably hazardous to attempt the remove the undetonated bomb, so the Hercules had to be destroyed.
Procedural History: Plaintiff is suing for the destroyed vessel, and for the fuel onboard, and it was brought in district court. District court dismissed the case due to lack of jurisdiction. On appeal.
Issue: Whether a federal district court could exercise SMJ over Argentina under the Alien Tort Statute.
Alien Tort Statute - establishes district court jurisdiction over any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.
Reasoning: Court examines the Alien Tort Statute and the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, concluding that both statutes provide grounds for SMJ over Argentina.
Also, court says Argentina violated international law: The Declaration of Paris of 1856 - "Neutral goods, with the exception of contraband of war, are not liable to capture under enemy's flag "Geneva convention on the High Seas of 1958 - Art.22 - a warship cannot board a merchant vessel w/o grounds of suspecting her of engaging in piracy, slave trade, or traveling under false colors. Even if there are grounds for suspicions,an officer will first board and inspect the ship, but never to just commence an attack. If the merchant vessel is found to be neutral, it shall be compensated for any loss or damages sustained.
Law of Sea Convention of 1982 - explicitly incorporates above provisions,
and Argentina is a signatory, and US has endorsed the relevant sections of it.Other international accords support this view of the rights of neutral ships. It is very clear that Argentina violated International law.