Mr. Ewing to Mr. Sherman.

No. 222.]

Sir: On receipt of your dispatch No. 228 of November 28, 1896, I addressed a letter to the minister for foreign affairs in order to be furnished with full information as to the taxes levied on vessels entering the Belgian ports, and expressed the desire to be informed also whether there exists any discrimination between American vessels and vessels of Belgian origin entering the said ports.

I have just received, in reply to my communication, a note which, it is claimed, contains complete information on the subject. A copy of this note I inclose herewith, together with a translation into English.

[Page 39]

As will be seen, the regulations, orders, etc., referred to in the said note will be found in the pamphlets hereunto annexed.

In transmitting this note, which has been prepared by the minister of railroads, posts, and telegraphs (to whose office pertains the merchant marine) in collaboration with his colleague, the minister of finance, the minister of foreign affairs desires to state that the taxes or duties to be paid by vessels entering the Belgian ports represent in fact the value of services rendered only, and that in levying such duties no distinction is made between Belgian and American vessels. He therefore expresses the hope that our Government, considering this fact, will not hesitate to exempt from tonnage dues Belgian vessels entering American ports.

I have, etc.,

Jas. S. Ewing.
[Inclosure in No. 222.—Translation.]


In the ports of Antwerp, Ghent, and Ostend wharfage and dock dues are levied conformably to the tariffs established for Antwerp by royal decrees of January 25 and 29, 1896 (Annexes 1 and 2), for Ghent, by a communal council order of March 21, 1893 (page 36 of Annex 3), and for Ostend by a royal decree of January 31, 1896 (Annex 4).

In consequence of these duties, paid into the city treasuries, vessels find at all hours of the day berths in deep water alongside of quays, lighted, guarded, and provided with sheds and improved machinery for unloading and loading; the docks, with a constant water-level, are also provided with quays, lighted, guarded, and furnished with necessary apparatus.

In Belgium, the communal administrations thus furnish to navigation facilities and advantages that are furnished elsewhere by private companies.

Speaking of Antwerp alone, the capital immobilized in the construction of the various docks and quays of the Schelde—exclusive of the expenses of the original establishment of special services—amounts to about 120,000,000 francs. The maritime establishments produced in 1896, from harbor dues, about 2,500,000 francs, from which 750,000 francs must be deducted for general expenses. The net profit of the capital invested is thus a little less than I£ per cent, while the average rate of interest on the loans which furnished the greater part of the immobilized capital is 3.27 per cent.

In addition there exist at Antwerp certain optional dues:

For service rendered vessels requesting the assistance of tugs in the docks (Annex 5).
For the use of dry docks (Annex 6).
For storing goods on the covered and open quays of the Schelde and of the docks after the expiration of the free use, provided for by the regulations of these quays (Annexes 7 and 8).
For the use of the hydraulic cranes and other machinery belonging to the city and utilized to expedite the unloading or the loading of cargoes (Annexes 9 and 10).

The communal administration of Ghent also levies for the use of sheds, dry docks, port apparatus, etc., the nonobligatory duties detailed on pages 38 et seq., of Annex III.

From the preceding statements it results that the different duties, obligatory or optional, to be paid by vessels in Belgian ports constitute the price of services really rendered, and, that being the case, it matters little, with regard to the interests of navigation, whether these dues are collected by private enterprises or by communal administrations.

The navigation duties levied by the State are confined to the wharfage clues established for the outer harbor of Ostend by a royal decree of December 24, 1895. (See the Moniteur of December 29, 1895, Annex XI.) These dues, like those collected by the cities of Antwerp, Ghent, and Ostend, represent the remuneration of the expenses of construction and repair of the quays (Annex XII), and for maritime police (Annex XIII), and to the fee to be paid for issuing bills of health, under the application of the royal decree of April 25, 1868 (see the Moniteur of April 27, 1868), their designation proves that they do not constitute duties properly so called, and can not therefore enter into consideration in the examination of the question raised.

Finally, in the application of the various duties and taxes mentioned above no distinction is made between Belgian and American vessels.