Mr. Scruggs to Mr. Foster.

No. 321.]

Sir: On the 18th instant I received a telegram from Capt. Woodrick, of the American merchant steamship Caracas, under that date from Curacao, as foliows:

Gen. Urdaneta took out of my ship six Curaçao passengers at Puerto Cabello. I protested at consulate.

I at once made known the contents of this telegram to the minister of foreign affairs, and, at his request, gave him a copy of it. To my inquiry whether Gen. Urdaneta was a Government officer the minister at first gave an evasive reply, and then stated frankly that Urdaneta’s position was equivocal and that the Government had no means of controlling his actions.

I then suggested to the minister, as a means of avoiding a disagreeable question, that his Government interpose its authority in so far as it might have authority, or its good offices, in default of actual authority, for the immediate release of the passengers of the Caracas.

He asked for a few hours’ time in which to confer with the President (Dr. Villegas), and late the same evening I received his verbal note in reply, a copy and translation of which I inclose. A copy of my reply thereto, dated the next morning, the 19th, is likewise submitted. I inclose also a copy of my supplemental note of the 22d with copies of Capt. Woodrick’s letter and protest therein referred to; also a copy of Consul Hanna’s communication of the 20th, of which a copy was likewise sent to the minister.

As you are aware, this country has been in a state of complete anarchy for several weeks past. There is a de facto government, but it has no means of making itself respected by any one of the armed factions now contending for power. As the contest continues, the parties become more and more desperate, and less disposed to respect the neutral rights of foreigners, and the time has already arrived when foreign governments will be forced to the alternative of either abandoning their citizens to the mercies of an irresponsible mob, or of taking some prompt and efficient steps for their protection.

Moved by these considerations, I cabled you on the 22d as follows:

A war vessel is needed here at once.

The mere presence of one of our naval vessels anywhere in Venezuelan waters, or even at the harbor of Curacoa, would have prevented the unfortunate incident at Puerto Cabello. As it is, we have already lost prestige; and, in the absence of a naval vessel, we may expect similar occurrences. The final outcome will be the seizure of one of our mail steamers by some one of the armed factions who may need it for transporting [Page 616] troops between the coast ports. If I may venture a suggestion, it is far preferable to incur some little expense and inconvenience in preventing such infractions than to make futile demands upon a feeble and hopelessly bankrupt government for pecuniary indemnification.

I have, etc.,

Wm. L. Scruggs.
[Inclosure 1, in No. 321.—Translation.]

Señor Urbaneja to Mr. Scruggs:

The minister of foreign affairs of Venezuela has the honor to salute the most excellent envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of the United States of America, and as the result of the conference which he had with this Government, relating to the question made known to your excellency by the telegram from Mr. Woodrick, captain of the American merchant steamer Caracas, which your excellency has verbally made known to this ministry this morning. I have the honor to state to your excellency

  • First. The Government, in order to take the necessary steps, requires reports from the authorities touching the intervention referred to by your excellency, likewise from the other authorities or persons whose testimony may be relevant to the case cited; these for the simple reason, as well as a natural right, that in all litigations it is not possible to accept as certain facts which require formal proof.
  • Second. If the acts as related by the minister, although perfectly true, had taken place in Venezuelan waters and been exercised against individuals which the Government of Venezuela considers as hostile, the regulation constantly practiced in council by common consent, principles made known in international law and followed by all the civilized countries, has been that all ships entering into our waters come under Venezuelan jurisdiction so long as they remain in said waters; and,
  • Thirdly. That the exception in the law cited should be made only in cases which apply to foreign armed vessels in war, or that, although being merchant vessels, they might have on board sovereigns or chiefs of foreign countries. Circumstances which should give consideration to the vessels, for the reason that they are considered as moving parts of the territory to which their flag belongs.
Manuel Clemente Urbaneja.
[Inclosure 2 in No. 321.]

Mr. Scruggs to Señor Urbaneja.

Mr. Minister: I have had the honor to receive your excellency’s verbal note of yesterday’s date, touching the subject of our personal conference of that morning. In that conference I made known to your excellency that six passengers on the American steamship Caracas had been seized and taken from her decks at Puerto Cabello by a local military commander, and assuming that these passengers had embarked at one foreign port and were bound for another, I suggested their immediate release as the simplest solution of what might otherwise become a grave diplomatic question. To that suggestion your excellency replies, in the note under acknowledgement, claiming the legal right of the Venezuelan Government to perform the identical act complained of.

This places me under the necessity of referring the matter to my Government; but pending the receipt of instructions on the subject, it is proper that I should say I am wholly unable to agree with your excellency as to the legality of the point thus raised.

Publicists are generally agreed that private vessels of a nation, as contradistinguished from its war vessels, are, on entering the ports of another nation, not exempt from local jurisdiction. But this rule is not absolute and unlimited. It is subject to very important qualifications, both general and special. The vessels of a nation on the high seas are commonly spoken of as a part of its territory, and this character is not destroyed by their entrance into the port of another nation, although by such entrance they may, to a great extent, also become subject to another jurisdiction.

[Page 617]

A ship, though at anchor in a foreign port, preserves its jurisdiction and its laws. The vessels of a nation are considered part of its territory, though at sea, as the state retains its jurisdiction over them; and according to the commonly received custom, this jurisdiction is presumed over the vessels, even in parts of the sea subject to a foreign dominion. It is true that the jurisdiction of a nation over its vessels while lying in the port of another is not necessarily exclusive. Nobody pretends that it is. For unlawful acts done by such vessels while thus lying in port, and for all contracts entered into while there by her master or owners, she and they must, doubtless, be answerable to the laws of the place. Nor, if her master or crew, while on board in such port, break the peace of the community by the commission of crimes, can exemption be claimed for them. But, nevertheless, the law of nations, and the statutes of commercial powers founded on that law, show that enlightened nations, in modern times, do clearly hold that the jurisdiction and laws of a nation accompany her ships, not only over the high seas, but into ports and harbors, or wherever else they may be water-borne for the general purpose of governing and regulating the rights, duties, and obligations of those on board thereof, and that, to the extent of the exercise of this jurisdiction, they are considered as parts of the territory of the nation herself.

These general principles seem to me to be too well established to be any longer matters of controversy, and hence the friendly suggestions made by me at the informal conference referred to.

I improve the opportunity, etc.,

Wm. L. Scruggs.
[Inclosure 3 in No. 321.]

Capt. Woodrick to Mr. Scruggs.

Sir: Whilst loading at Puerto Cabello on the 17th instant, a commissioner of Gen. Urdaneta came on board to ask me to deliver over to the police Jacinto Lopez, Dr. P. Febres Codero, Francisco M. Casas, Antonio Salinas, M. Lopez, and Manuel Ramos, passengers from La Guayra to Curacas and Maracaibo, who had embarked at La Guayra with their custom-house permit in order. I refused to do so and Gen. Urdaneta then sent on board several policemen to take them away.

The passengers at first tried to hide, but finally decided not to make any resistance, which would have been to no avail, and went on shore escorted by the police, who took them over to the jail at the port.

I protested at the consulate, as per inclosed copy, and sent you this morning a cable thus:

Scruggs, American Minister, Caracas,

“General Urdaneta took out of my ship six Curacao passengers at Puerto Cabello.

“Capt. Woodrick.”

I have, etc.,

Wm. Woodrick,
Captain Steamship Caracas.
[Inclosure 4 in No. 321.]

Protest of Capt. Woodrick.

Know all men by these presents that I, Capt. Wm. Woodrick, of steamship Caracas, of Wilmington, Del., United States of America, having sailed from La Guayra on the 18th of August, bound for Puerto Cabello and Curacao, with the following passengers: Jacinto Lopez, Dr. P. Febres Cordero, Francisco M. Casas, Antonio Salinas, M. Lopez, and Manuel Ramos, and on the arrival of said steamship Caracas in the port of Puerto Cabello, about 4 o’clock p.m., the authorities of Puerto Cabello boarded the said steamship Caracas and arrested the above-mentioned passengers and prevented them from proceeding further on their voyage. They having paid their passages and complied with all the requirements of the laws of Venezuela and regulations of said steamship Caracas.

Therefore, I, Wm. Woodrick, captain of this steamship Caracas, on board of same, do hereby most solemnly enter my protest against the arrest and removal of said, passengers from this ship.

Wm. Woodrick.
[Page 618]
[Inclosure 4 in No. 321.]

Mr. Hanna to Mr. Scruggs.

No. 10.]

Sir: Complying with your instruction No. 21, dated August 19, instant, I have the honor to report that on the return of the steamship Caracas to this port, I saw the master and other officers of the ship and obtained the following facts concerning the case to which your instruction refers. Capt. Woodrick, the master of the above named ship, said that while they were at Puerto Cabello receiving their cargo for New York, the chief of the civil, under orders from Gen. Urdaneta, came onto the ship and told Capt. Woodrick that there were certain passengers on board the ship which he wanted, and whom he had orders to arrest. The captain informed him that such persons had paid their fare and had taken passage on an American ship, under the protection of the American flag, and were bound for Curacao; that he could not give them up. The chief of the civil then said he would take them by force, and thereupon entered the part of the ship where the passengers were and began to take them. Some of them hid away in their rooms or in other parts of the ship, but the chief found them and took them from the ship by force, in spite of the protest of the master of the ship; six passengers, bound from La Guayra to Curacao, were taken. The master and other officers of the ship certified to the above facts. I am informed that all of the six passengers had regular tickets, and had “permits” to leave La Guayra for Curacao.

Capt. Woodrick informed me that he had sent you a statement of the case by mail, and Mr. H. L. Boulton said that he would see you on the subject.

I have, etc.,

Philip C. Hanna,