hot chase

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A so-called principle of warfare at sea with no valid basis in law. It was sometimes quoted by admirals in their own defence after committing a breach of international law. The principle is that a fleeing enemy may be followed into neutral waters and destroyed there if the chase began in international waters. An example of this occurred at the battle of Lagos in 1759 when four French ships of the line tried to escape from Admiral Boscawen's fleet by taking shelter in neutral Portuguese waters in Lagos Bay. Boscawen, who had been chasing them all night, followed them in, captured two of them, and burned a third. The fourth, the French flagship, was burned by her crew after she ran ashore under full sail. On this occasion the Portuguese authorities accepted the principle of ‘hot chase’, possibly because the French were not popular in Portugal at that time. Boscawen, in his report to the Admiralty, wrote that it was better to destroy the ships first and argue the principle later.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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