Cap 497 - SUBMARINE TELEGRAPH ORDINANCE 1
Chapter: 497 SUBMARINE TELEGRAPH ORDINANCE Gazette Number Version Date
Long title 30/06/1997
An Ordinance to give effect in Hong Kong to the Convention for the Protection of Submarine Cables made at Paris on
14 March 1884.
[27 December 1996]
(Originally 78 of 1996)
Section: 1 Short title 30/06/1997
This Ordinance may be cited as the Submarine Telegraph Ordinance.
[cf. 1885 c. 49 s. 1 U.K.]
Section: 2 Interpretation 28 of 1998 01/07/1997
Adaptation amendments retroactively made - see 28 of 1998 s. 2(1)
In this Ordinance, unless the context otherwise requires-
"the Convention" (《公約》) means the Convention for the Protection of Submarine Cables which was made at Paris
on 14 March 1884 and which was established in the French language;
"master" (船長) includes every person having command or charge of a vessel;
"officer" (高級船員) means an officer commanding such a ship as described in Article X of the Schedule;
"person" (人) includes a body of persons corporate or unincorporate;
"vessel" (船隻) means every description of vessel used in navigation in whatever way it is propelled; and any
reference to a vessel shall include a reference to a boat belonging to such vessel.
(Amended 28 of 1998 s. 2(1))
[cf. 1885 c. 49 s. 12 U.K.]
Section: 3 Convention to have the force of law 30/06/1997
Subject to the provisions of this Ordinance, the Convention as set out in the Schedule, being an English
translation of the French original, shall continue to have the force of law in Hong Kong.
(Enacted 1996) [cf. 1885 c. 49 s. 2 U.K.]
Section: 4 Contravention of Article II of the Convention 30/06/1997
(1) A person who unlawfully and wilfully breaks or damages any submarine cable to which the Convention
applies, in such manner as might interrupt or obstruct in whole or in part telegraphic communication, commits an
offence and is liable on conviction on indictment to a fine of $500000 and to imprisonment for 5 years.
(2) A person who by culpable negligence breaks or damages any submarine cable to which the Convention
applies, in the manner described in subsection (1), commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine at
level 6 and to imprisonment for 1 year.
(3) A person who attempts to break or damage, unlawfully and wilfully, any submarine cable to which the
Convention applies, in the manner described in subsection (1), commits an offence and is liable to be punished in like
manner as if he had committed an offence under subsection (1).
Cap 497 - SUBMARINE TELEGRAPH ORDINANCE 2
(Enacted 1996) [cf. 1885 c. 49 s. 3(1) & (2) U.K.]
Section: 5 Defences and exceptions 30/06/1997
(1) Where a person does any act for the purposes of-
(a) preserving the life of or preventing injury to himself or any other person; or
(b) preserving the vessel to which he belongs or any other vessel,
and takes all reasonable precautions to avoid damage to a submarine cable, such person is deemed not to have acted
unlawfully and wilfully within the meaning of section 4.
(2) If in a bona fide attempt to repair a submarine cable, another cable is broken or damaged, such breakage or
damage is deemed not to be unlawful and wilful.
(3) Subsection (2) shall not apply so as to exempt any person from any liability under this Ordinance or
otherwise to pay the cost of repairing any breakage of or damage to any submarine cable.
(Enacted 1996) [cf. 1885 c. 49 s. 3(3) & (4) U.K.]
Section: 6 Accessories 28 of 1998 01/07/1997
Adaptation amendments retroactively made - see 28 of 1998 s. 2(1)
A person who-
(a) within Hong Kong; or
(b) being a permanent resident of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region or a body corporate
incorporated or established in Hong Kong, in any place outside Hong Kong, (Amended 28 of 1998 s.
in any manner procures, counsels, aids, abets or is accessory to the commission of an offence under section 4, commits
an offence and is liable to be tried and punished for the offence as if he had been a principal.
[cf. 1885 c. 49 s. 3(5) U.K.]
Section: 7 Obstruction of officers 30/06/1997
A person who obstructs an officer in the exercise or performance of the powers and duties vested in and imposed
on him by any Article of the Schedule, or who refuses or neglects to comply with any demand or direction lawfully
made or given by such officer in pursuance of this Ordinance, commits an offence and is liable on summary
conviction to a fine at level 6 and to imprisonment for 1 year.
(Enacted 1996) [cf. 1885 c. 49 s. 6(1) & (2) U.K.]
Section: 8 Evidence 30/06/1997
(1) Any document drawn up in pursuance of Article VII or Article X of the Schedule shall be admissible in any
proceeding, civil or criminal, as prima facie evidence of the facts or matters stated in the document.
(2) If evidence contained in any document as mentioned in subsection (1) was taken on oath in the presence of
the person accused in such evidence, and the person accused had an opportunity of cross-examining the person giving
such evidence and of making his reply to such evidence, the master or officer drawing up such document may certify
the said facts, or any of them.
(3) Any document or certificate mentioned in this section purporting to be signed by a master or officer shall be
admissible in evidence without proof of such signature, and, if purporting to be signed by any other person, shall, if
certified by any such master or officer to have been so signed, be deemed until the contrary is proved to have been
signed by such other person.
(4) A person who-
(a) forges the signature of any master or officer to any such document or certificate as is mentioned in this
(b) makes use of any such document or certificate knowing the signature to it to be forged,
Cap 497 - SUBMARINE TELEGRAPH ORDINANCE 3
commits an offence and is liable on conviction on indictment to a fine of $150000 and to imprisonment for 2 years.
(Enacted 1996) [cf. 1885 c. 49 s. 8 U.K.]
Section: 9 Liability of masters of vessels 30/06/1997
Where an offence against this Ordinance has been committed by means of a vessel, or of any boat belonging to a
vessel, the master of such vessel shall, unless some other person is shown to have been in charge of and navigating
such vessel or boat, be deemed to have been in charge of and navigating the same, and be liable to be punished
(Enacted 1996) [cf. 1885 c. 49 s. 9 U.K.]
Section: 10 Savings 30/06/1997
(1) The provisions of this Ordinance shall be in addition to and not in derogation from any other provisions
existing at common law or under any enactment for the protection of submarine cables.
(2) Subject to subsection (3)-
(a) nothing in this Ordinance shall prevent a person being liable under any Ordinance or otherwise to any
indictment, proceeding, punishment, or penalty other than as is provided for by this Ordinance; and
(b) nothing in this Ordinance, nor any proceedings with respect to any matter, shall exempt a person from
any liability in any action or suit with reference to the same matter.
(3) The provisions of subsection (2) shall not apply so that a person-
(a) is punished twice for the same offence; or
(b) is required to pay compensation twice in respect of the same damage.
(Enacted 1996) [cf. 1885 c. 49 s. 10 U.K.]
Section: 11 Repeal of Submarine Telegraph Act 1885 30/06/1997
(1) The Submarine Telegraph Act 1885 (1885 c. 49 U.K.), in so far as it is part of the law of Hong Kong, is
(2) Sections 23 to 25 of the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance (Cap 1) apply in relation to the repeal
of Act referred to in subsection (1) as they apply in relation to the repeal of an Ordinance.
Schedule: SCHEDULE 30/06/1997
[sections 2, 3, 7 & 8]
CONVENTION FOR THE PROTECTION OF SUBMARINE CABLES
The present Convention applies outside territorial waters to all legally established submarine cables landed on
the territories, colonies, or possessions of one or more of the High Contracting Parties.
It is a punishable offence to break or injure a submarine cable, wilfully or by culpable negligence, in such
manner as might interrupt or obstruct telegraphic communication, either wholly or partially, such punishment being
without prejudice to any civil action for damages.
Cap 497 - SUBMARINE TELEGRAPH ORDINANCE 4
This provision does not apply to cases where those who break or injure a cable do so with the lawful object of
saving their lives or their ship, after they have taken every necessary precaution to avoid so breaking or injuring the
The High Contracting Parties undertake that, on granting a concession for landing a submarine cable, they will
insist, so far as possible, upon proper measures of safety being taken, both as regards the track of the cable and its
The owner of a cable who, on laying or repairing his own cable breaks or injures another cable, must bear the
cost of repairing the breakage or injury, without prejudice to the application, if need be, of Article II of the present
Vessels engaged in laying or repairing submarine cables shall conform to the regulations as to signals which
have been, or may be, adopted by mutual agreement among the High Contracting Parties, with the view of preventing
collisions at sea.
When a ship engaged in repairing a cable exhibits the said signals, other vessels which see them, or are able to
see them, shall withdraw to or keep beyond a distance of one nautical mile at least from the ship in question, so as not
to interfere with her operations.
Fishing gear and nets shall be kept at the same distance.
Nevertheless, fishing vessels which see or are able to see a telegraph ship exhibiting the said signals shall be
allowed a period of twenty-four hours at most within which to obey the notice so given, during which time they shall
not be interfered with in any way.
The operations of the telegraph ships shall be completed as quickly as possible.
Vessels which see, or are able to see, the buoys showing the position of a cable when the latter is being laid, is
out of order, or is broken, shall keep beyond a distance of one-quarter of a nautical mile at least from the said buoys.
Fishing nets and gear shall be kept at the same distance.
Owners of ships or vessels who can prove that they have sacrificed an anchor, a net, or other fishing gear in
order to avoid injuring a submarine cable shall receive compensation from the owner of the cable.
In order to establish a claim to such compensation, a statement supported by the evidence of the crew, should,
whenever possible, be drawn up immediately after the occurrence; and the master must, within twenty-four hours after
his return to, or next putting into port, make a declaration to the proper authorities.
Cap 497 - SUBMARINE TELEGRAPH ORDINANCE 5
The latter shall communicate the information to the consular authorities of the country to which the owner of the
The tribunals competent to take cognizance of infractions of the present Convention are those of the country to
which the vessel on board of which the offence was committed belongs.
It is, moreover, understood that, in cases where the provisions in the previous paragraph cannot apply, offences
against the present Convention will be dealt with in each of the Contracting States in accordance, so far as the subjects
and citizens of those States respectively are concerned, with the general rules of criminal jurisdiction prescribed by the
laws of that particulars State, or by international treaties.
Prosecutions for infractions provided against by Articles II, V, and VI of the present Convention shall be
instituted by the State, or in its name.
Offences against the present Convention may be verified by all means of proof allowed by the legislation of the
country of the court. When the officers commanding the ships of war, or ships specially commissioned for the purpose
by one of the High Contracting Parties, have reason to believe that an infraction of the measures provided for in the
present Convention has been committed by a vessel other than a vessel of war, they may demand from the captain or
master the production of the official documents proving the nationality of the said vessel. The fact of such document
having been exhibited shall then be endorsed upon it immediately. Further, formal statements of the facts may be
prepared by the said officers, whatever may be the nationality of the vessel incriminated. These formal statements
shall be drawn up in the form and in the language used in the country to which the officer making them belongs; they
may be considered, in the country where they are adduced, as evidence in accordance with the laws of that country.
The accused and the witnesses shall have the right to add, or to have added, thereto, in their own language, any
explanations they may consider useful. These declarations shall be duly signed.
The proceedings and trial in cases of infraction of the provisions of the present Convention shall always take
place as summarily as the laws and regulations in force will permit.
[Articles XII to XVII omitted]