No. 56.
Mr. Evarts to Mr. Van den Bossche.

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of the 6th instant relating to the system of admeasurement of vessels under Belgian laws, and in reply to transmit herewith a copy of a communication from the Secretary of the Treasury presenting certain considerations on the subject.

Accept, sir, a renewed assurance of my high consideration.


Mr. Sherman to Mr. Evarts.

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 10th instant, referring to my communication of the 13th of September last, giving the views of the department on the project submitted, in a note of the minister of Belgium in this country, respecting the “conversion” of the local dues now collected in the port of Antwerp, under treaty stipulations; and you transmit for my consideration a translation of another note on the same subject, received recently, from the chargé d’affaires of Belgium, with a request for the further views of the department on the matter as now presented, in order that you may communicate them to the Belgian legation.

The note of the chargé d’affaires, as appears by the translation, relates to the admeasurement of vessels, and to the conversion of the local dues collected at the present time at the port of Antwerp.

I would observe that my letter of the 13th of September last related to both those subjects, but chiefly to the proposed revision by the Belgian Government of its system of admeasurement of vessels; and I stated there that that government appeared to have adopted the Moorsom system, but until such adoption was officially communicated to this government, that the proper instructions might be issued to collectors of customs, the admeasurement of Belgian vessels arriving at ports of the United States would continue according to the laws and regulations of this country.

It seems, however, from the note, that while the adoption in Belgium of the Moorsom system is contemplated, it will not be made “until all foreign governments have expressed their views in relation to the plan of conversion which is the subject of the present negotiation.”

In reference to this subject, the Belgian minister states in his note of August 12, 18781, that “the new regulation, which is projected in consequence of the revision of the system of admeasuring Belgian vessels, is but a simple conversion, without any augmentation of existing dues.”

The department understands that the Belgian “regulations of June 21, 1861, relative to the collection of navigation dues at Antwerp,” provide that certain duties shall be collected from all foreign vessels entering at the port of Antwerp, upon their tonnage as ascertained by measurement according to the existing Belgian rule or method.

Those duties or navigation dues are as follows, viz:

Centimes. Centimes.
Under 100 tons 40, and 15 per cent. = 46
Above 100 to 150 tons 45, and 15 per cent. = 51.75
Above 150 to 200 tons 50, and 15 per cent. = 57.50
Above 200 to 250 tons 55, and 15 per cent. = 63.25
Above 250 to 300 tons 65, and 15 per cent. = 74.75
Above 300 tons 70, and 15 per cent. = 80.50

By the proposed revised regulations, these dues are made specific, as follows, viz:

Centimes per ton.
Under 85 tons 47
From 86 to 128 tons 53
From 129 to 171 tons 58
From 172 to 214 tons 64
From 215 to 257 tons 76
From 258 and upwards 82

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A comparison of the two schedules, given above, shows that the dues per ton are slightly increased; the large vessels (above 258 tons) from 80.50 centimes to 82 centimes; or say 15/100 centimes per ton on a vessel of 1,000 tons, the increase would be 15 francs = $2.89½.

It is presumed that the object of the Belgian Government in making the new regulations (conversion so called) is to provide against a loss to the revenue of that government which, it is apprehended, will result from the adoption of the Moorsom system, for ascertaining tonnage.

If the conversion is acceded to, the Belgian Government proposes to discontinue measuring vessels entering at the port of Antwerp, and to collect the navigation dues upon the tonnage expressed in the vessel’s register.

The department understands that the Moorsom system is simply a method of ascertaining cubic capacities, and that maritime nations which have adopted it have a different rule of applying the system to tonnage.

The United States rules include in the tonnage not only the capacity of the hold and between decks, but the capacity of all permanent closed-in spaces on the upper decks, or on the spar deck, available for cargo or stores, or for the berthing or accommodation of passengers or crew, and no deductions are allowed from the (gross) aggregate tonnage. In other words, there is no recognized net tonnage.

The rules of other nations, however, provide for certain deductions from the gross tonnage, and the remainder is the net tonnage, and is usually what is stated in the register. These deductions may be said, generally, to amount, in steam-vessels, to from 25 to 45 per cent., averaging 35 per cent. of the gross tonnage. In sailing vessels such deductions are about 5 per cent. of the gross tonnage. These deductions were considered unequal and unjust, and the Constantinople Conference, which the chargé d’affaires refers to, was held for the purpose of establishing a uniform rule of deductions and allowances. Whether the Belgian Government shall adopt the English method “pure and simple,” or the Moorsom system modified in its application according to the Danube rule adopted at Constantinople, is not material in the opinion of this department. American vessels entering at the port of Antwerp will, no doubt, be required to pay navigation dues on their gross or register tonnage; Belgian vessels entering American ports will pay tonnage duties on their register tonnage “with the addition of the deductions made under Belgian law hot authorized by the admeasurement law of the United States.”

As regards the proposed “conversion,” it will not, in my opinion, materially or unfavorably affect American vessels.

Very respectfully,