Sir Julian Pauncefote to Mr. Olney.
Washington, March 19, 1896.
Sir: Her Majesty’s Government have had under their consideration reports from British officials respecting the sealing season of 1895, in which complaint is made of the proceedings of the United States revenue cruisers in searching and seizing British vessels without sufficient cause.
I am desired by Her Majesty’s principal secretary of state for foreign affairs to communicate to your Government the inclosed documents and to submit the following observations thereon. The documents consist of—
- A letter from the collector of customs at Victoria of the 15th October last.
- A declaration of Isaac A. Gould, master of the sealing schooner Katherine, detailing the methods of boarding and searching vessels and of the examination of seal skins.
- A statement of the names of British vessels boarded by United States patrol vessels during the season of 1895 outside the 60-mile zone around the Pribilof Islands, with the latitude and longitude at the time of each visit.
- Copy of a “clearance certificate” issued to the British sealing vessel E. B. Marvin by Lieutenant Carmine, United States acting customs officer at the Island of Attou.
It appears from those papers that out of twenty-nine vessels which had then returned from Bering Sea, no less than twenty-six had been boarded by United States officers, and these, in the aggregate, eighty-two times. The average was therefore more than three boardings for each vessel, and in one case, that of the Sapphire, the vessel was boarded six times in the course of twenty-four days. In nearly every instance [Page 257] the sealskins were overhauled and examined and left in confusion, and on each occasion they had to be repacked in salt by the crews. The net result of all this labor and annoyance was that the entries in the log book of the Beatrice were found to be a few days in arrears, and that a hole was discovered in one sealskin out of a cargo of 386 on board the E. B. Marvin, which, in the opinion of the United States naval officer, had the appearance of being a shot wound. Both these vessels were seized and were subsequently sent to Victoria for trial.
Admiral Stephenson and the officer commanding H. M. S. Pheasant have also commented on the frequency with which the vessels were visited, and on the manner in which the search was conducted. These two officers state, moreover, that the men who command the sealing schooners are most anxious to carry out all regulations to the letter.
Her Majesty’s Government have also been informed that the United States naval officers considered themselves authorized by their instructions to board indiscriminately all British sealers.
It will be observed from the foregoing summary that the complaints of the sealing vessels against the United States revenue cruisers belong to three different categories: (1) the seizure of vessels for alleged offenses on evidence obviously insufficient; (2) the exercise of the right of search in cases where no suspicion exists as to an offense having been committed; (3) vexatious and inquisitorial interference.
With regard to the question of seizure, it was pointed out in my note to Mr. Gresham of April 30, 1894, and it has since been notified to your Government on several occasions that the United States cruisers are only empowered by the British order in council to seize British vessels contravening the pro visions of the British act of Parliament, which contains no provision similar to section 10 of the United States act, and that the United States naval officers have therefore no power to seize British vessels merely on the ground that they have sealing apparatus or implements on board. The British act of Parliament only gives a power to seize when an offense has been committed, and the order in council authorizes the seizure and detention of any British vessel which has become liable to be forfeited. Even by the United States law no general power is conferred to board and search vessels without specific grounds of suspicion.
Accordingly, by direction of the Marquis of Salisbury, I had the honor in my note of the 14th of October last to inform you that British naval officers would in future decline to take over any British vessel seized by an American cruizer unless the declaration alleged a specific offense which is a contravention of the British act of Parliament.
There appears to have been some misconception on the part of the United States naval officers, who have attempted to apply United States law to British vessels, as is shown by the clearance certificate granted to the E. B. Marvin by Lieutenant Carmine, United States Navy, in which the proclamation of the President and the United States regulations are quoted.
A copy of this certificate is among the documents inclosed and I am directed to bring it to the notice of your Government, with the request that the United States naval officers may be informed that their powers, as far as British vessels are concerned, exist solely in virtue of the British act of Parliament, and the order in council issued under it, and are restricted within the limits of the provisions by which those powers are therein defined.
The exercise of the right of search is likewise subject to restrictions. The British act of Parliament contains no section enabling an officer [Page 258] to stop and examine any vessel such as existed in the seal-fishery acts of 1891 and 1893. The arbitration award required that the offenses specified in Articles I and II should be prohibited, but did not require any preventive action before the commission of the offense. If an officer has reasonable cause to suspect a vessel of having committed an offense, it is open to him to stop and examine her, but he is clearly not justified, in the absence of any specific ground for suspicion, in stopping and examining every vessel he meets as a purely precautionary or preventive measure.
In any case the vexatious and uncalled for interference reported during the past season gives just cause for complaint. Among the points agreed to by the Secretary of the Treasury, when I had the honor to discuss the subject with him by desire of Mr. Gresham, with reference to the instructions to the United States naval officers in May, 1894, were the following:
That the masters of the sealing vessels should be protected from inquisitorial examination; that no sealing vessel should be seized by reason of the absence of a license or of fishery implements being found on board; that the United States naval instructions as to the mode of dealing with sealing vessels should be similar to the British naval instructions; and that the naval officer who examines a sealing vessel shall leave a certificate with her master for protection against interference.
I would refer you also to the memorandum of arrangements agreed upon and recorded in my note to Mr. Gresham of May 10, 1894, and in his reply of the 11th.
These provisions, which had special reference to the arrangement for sealing up arms in 1894, show the spirit in which the instructions for carrying out the award were issued, and it is essential that an international agreement involving questions of so delicate a nature should be administered with mutual forbearance and moderation.
Her Majesty’s Government feel sure that it is not the intention nor desire of the United States Government that men engaged in a perfectly legitimate occupation, who, according to both British and American reports, are most anxious to observe strictly the regulations imposed for public reasons on that occupation, should be treated as if they were continually engaged in trying to evade and break the law, and subjected to unnecessary loss and trouble. The right of searching British vessels was conferred on United States officers on the assumption that they would exercise their powers with the same consideration as would in like circumstances be shown to such vessels by Her Majesty’s naval officers, and Her Majesty’s Government have no doubt that, when the matter is brought to the notice of your Government, they will issue such orders as will put an end to an interference with British vessels on the high seas, which has given rise to so many complaints, and which is not warranted by the provisions of British law.
I have, etc.,