To the diplomatic officers of the United
States accredited to the maritime powers.
Washington , July 30, 1888.
Sir: An act of Congress approved by the President on the 9th instant, provided for an international marine conference to secure greater [Page 1660] safety for life and property at sea. By this act the President is requested to invite the other maritime powers to take part in a conference, the objects of which are, in brief, to revise the present international regulations for preventing collisions at sea, especially with reference to signaling in fog; to revise the existing code of signals; to compare and discuss the various systems employed for the saving of life and property from shipwreck; to devise methods of reporting, marking, and removing dangerous wrecks and obstructions to navigation; and to establish uniform means of conveying to mariners warnings of storms and other information.
The great interest and importance of these subjects justify an extended reference to the principal objects of the proposed conference and to the steps already taken in the same direction.
Between 1863 and 1865 thirty-four of the principal maritime nations approved and made statutory a code of laws similar in all respects to that adopted by Great Britain in 1862 for preventing collisions at sea, thus responding to the invitation put forth by that Government in 1863 to examine that code in the interests of commerce at large, and to adopt the same or like legislation if deemed suitable, according to their several needs.
Subsequently, in the light of experience tending to show the inadequacy of the statutes in question for the practical requirements of commerce, and acting upon a revised draft of laws formulated by a commission appointed by the British Government, and by it submitted for the consideration of the maritime powers, most of the governments interested accepted and approved the amended code, and united in giving it effect on the 1st of September, 1880.
During the decade which has elapsed since that code, now generally in operation on the high seas and in the jurisdictional waters of the several enacting states, was framed and considered, a growing tendency is manifest to regard it as inadequate to the present needs of commerce, and especially in respect to the sound signals for use in fog, mist, or falling snow. The increasing number and speed of steam-vessels has greatly added to the dangers of collision in thick weather, and the opinion has recently been expressed by the best authorities that the present system of signals for steam-vessels is insufficient.
The present international code of flag signals, which has been in use since its origin in 1856, is also believed to need careful revision. Experience has shown the necessity of extending the list of names of places and of words and conventional phrases, as well as the advisability of considering whether greater rapidity and accuracy in day and night signaling can not be attained.
With respect to the protection of life and property from shipwreck, no general international agreement in regard to on and off shore signaling, or as to the modus operandi of the life-saving service of different nations, is known to exist. In spite of the utmost efforts of those engaged in the Life-Saving Service of the United States, lives have been lost from foreign vessels stranded on our coasts because of a misunderstanding of our methods; and it is believed that the experience of other countries iii this regard is similar to our own.
The destruction, or at least the frequent and accurate reporting, of dangerous derelicts, is also a matter of the highest importance; and it is obvious that this work can be thoroughly done only by means of the active co-operation of the principal maritime nations.
Closely connected with the subject of reporting derelicts is that of conveying warning of storms and of giving information of recently discovered [Page 1661] dangers to navigation, and changes in lights, buoys, and other day or night marks—which probably can be best undertaken by the adoption of some carefully considered international system.
The alacrity with which the principal maritime states have responded, by concurrent legislation to the ascertained requirements of modern developments of commercial navigation, whether on the high seas or in their several jurisdictional waters open to foreign shipping, and their readiness to consider, and when feasible to adopt, practical suggestions in the direction of uniformity and certainty of conveying intelligence at sea and for the benefit of sea-going vessels, whenever such have been proposed, leads the Government of the United States to anticipate that they will be now no less prompt and unanimous in agreeing to confer together for their mutual advantage, taking into consideration whatever measures may tend to secure additional safeguards to maritime intercourse.
By direction, therefore, of the President of the United States, you will tender to the Government to which you are accredited a cordial invitation to be represented by as many delegates as may seem to it convenient, at an international conference to meet in the City of Washington, on Wednesday, the 17th day of April, 1889, the purposes of such conference being to revise and amend the rules, regulations, and practice concerning vessels at sea, and navigation generally, and the “International Code of Flag and Night Signals; to adopt a uniform system of marine signals, or other means of plainly indicating the direction in which vessels are moving in fog, mist, falling snow, and thick weather, and at night; to compare and discuss the various systems employed for the saving of life and property from shipwreck, for reporting, marking, and removing dangerous wrecks or obstructions to navigation, for designating vessels, for conveying to mariners and persons interested in shipping, warnings of approaching storms, of dangers to navigation, of changes in lights, buoys, and other day and night marks, and other important information; and to formulate and submit for ratification to the governments of all maritime nations proper international regulations for the prevention of collisions and other avoidable marine disasters.
It will be understood by all states taking part in this conference that no questions relating to the regulation of trade and commerce are within the scope of the discussion, and that in the disposition of any questions which may be presented to the conference, no state shall be entitled to more than one vote, whatever may be the number of delegates representing it.
You will make this invitation known to the —— Government by reading this note to the minister for foreign affairs, and, if desired, you will leave a copy with him. Your own discretion will suggest to you the most effective manner of making known the great interest taken by the President in the benevolent purposes of the proposed conference, and his desire and confident expectation that, in the universal interest of sea-faring humanity, the Government of _____ will receive and respond to our invitation in the same spirit in which it is extended.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,