Mr. Scruggs to Mr.
the United States,
Caracas, August 29, 1892.
(Received September 7.)
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
I have, etc.,
[Inclosure 1, in No.
Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Caracas, August 18,
Señor Urbaneja to Mr.
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
[Inclosure 2 in No. 321.]
Mr. Scruggs to
Legation of the United States,
Caracas, August 19,
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
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.,
[Inclosure 3 in No. 321.]
Capt. Woodrick to
Curacao, August 18,
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
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
I have, etc.,
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
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
Given under my hand this 17th day of August,
[Inclosure 4 in No. 321.]
Mr. Hanna to Mr.
Consulate of the United States,
La Guayra, August 20,
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
I have, etc.,