Mr. Osborn to Mr. Christiancy.
Santiago, Chili, April 26, 1879.
Sir: I see published in the Lima papers what purports to be a note addressed by Mr. Gibbs to the foreign minister in Lima, under date of the 7th instant, which, I fear, may result in seriously imperiling the property interests of American citizens in foreign-built ships on the coast.
It is unquestionably true that no law of the United States directly authorizes this class of vessels to carry the American flag. Nor is there any statute, so far as I have observed, directly conferring this privilege upon any class of vessels whatever. But that the government recognizes the right of American citizens to purchase foreign-built ships, and acknowledges its obligation to protect them in their property thus acquired, is an undoubted fact.
I am credibly informed that there are many vessels of this character, owned by American citizens, now doing business on this coast; some of them have been so engaged many years, and have been recognized by our consular officers as American vessels. The consul at Valparaiso informs me that only yesterday a vessel so owned came into port flying the American flag, having been dispatched in due form by our consul at Lambayeque, Peru. Her papers show that she was purchased by an American citizen, and the bill of sale recorded in the consulate at Lambayeque, as is provided in sections 220 and 221 of Consular Regulations.
I am not prepared to believe that the State Department intended to be understood as saying that our citizens might purchase foreign-built ships but that they should not sail them; hence I cannot agree with Mr. Gibbs in his understanding of section 226 of Consular Regulations. A vessel without a country, to me seems an anomaly. It would be in quite as pitiable a condition as was the “man without a country,” of whom we have read.
To fully guard against fraud in these transfers, however, it seems to me that some more stringent rules concerning them should be adopted. I should be pleased to exchange views with you on the subject.
Permit me to call your attention to the opinion of Mr. Cushing, referred to on page 6 of the “Digest of Opinions and Leading Cases on International Law.”
I am, &c.,