Mr. Loomis to Mr. Hay.

[Confidential.]
No. 347.]

Sir: Referring to my dispatch No. 345 of November 7, I have the honor to inclose a copy of a letter, with my answer, from Messrs. H. L. Boulton & Co., agents of the Red D Line steamship line, touching upon the subject of the custody of the papers of foreign ships in Venezuelan ports.

I also inclose a copy of a letter addressed by the United States consul at La Guaira to the master of the Caracas. This copy was furnished me by the agents of the Red D Line, the consul having made no communication to me on the subject.

According to section 178 of the Consular Regulations, the consul is not authorized to impose fines in case of the failure of a master to deposit his register with him, and his function is practically limited to making a report of the facts to the Secretary of State after having called the attention of the offending master to the law applicable to the case.

The practice, as you are aware and as set forth in the letter of H. L. Boulton & Co., is for foreign steamers entering the port of La Guaira to surrender their papers to the local port authorities. The only exceptions to this practice have been, so far as I know, in times of revolution, when there was no recognized government, or when there had been an avowed purpose on the part of the authorities arbitrarily to detain a foreign steamer, as was the case reported in my dispatch No. 345. As American steamers have been required to submit to the municipal law governing ports and shipping, save in extraordinary cases, when the commander of one of our naval vessels has taken their register and given them clearance, it is to be presumed, I take it, that there is no intention of bringing suit against masters of vessels, on the part of the United States Government, who, obeying the laws of the country, fail to deposit their registers with the United States consul.

I reported in my dispatch No. 345 as closed the incident of the Philadelphia and the taking of her register when it was believed she would go to Puerto Cabello and that the custom-house officials would seek to prevent her by refusing to clear her. It seems, however, when the Philadelphia returned to La Guaira for her passengers and mails on the morning of the 8th of November, prior to commencing her voyage north, her register was taken by the commander of the Detroit, contrary [Page 789] to the wishes of her agents, so they say, and retained by him until she was ready to sail later in the same day for New York. There was no intention on the part of the authorities upon this latter occasion to detain or in any way to interfere with the boat.

When the Caracas arrived at La Guaira on the morning of the 13th from New York, the commander of the Detroit sent an officer aboard of her to get the register, but it had been delivered to the customs officials, as is the custom. Then followed the letter of the consul to the master of the Caracas, which I inclose.

Unless I receive instructions from you to advise the agents of the Red D and other American vessels calling at Venezuelan ports to direct the masters of such vessels to deposit their ships’ papers with our consular officers at Venezuelan ports, I take it, in case the Government here does not yield this point, the usage long in vogue will have to be continued and the register of American vessels surrendered to the port officials save in extraordinary cases.

I would be glad, of course, if a naval vessel could be stationed at La Guaira at all times to take possession of the registers of American ships, if such measure should be deemed expedient by the Department, but under the long-existing conditions I am of the opinion that the treatment of this question for the moment through the usual medium of diplomacy, which has been intrusted to this legation, will not be facilitated should there happen to be independent action in the matter, however wise and well meant, on the part of the United States consul at La Guaira or on the part of our naval commanders at that port.

For more than a week I have been very actively at work with General Castro, urging him, with all the argument and force I could command, to suspend the law requiring masters of foreign ships to deposit their registers with port officials when in Venezuelan harbors. I have had three long talks with General Castro on the subject, and he admitted that the position occupied by Venezuela in this matter is an unique one, with little to justify it. He has promised to give the matter immediate and serious attention. Next week the British minister will probably prefer a similar request, and I may be able to get the German minister to do something in the matter, as many ships of his nation call at Venezuelan ports.

The agents of the Red D Line informed me that they inferred from the form and tone of Consul Goldschmidt’s letter that he was empowered immediately to impose a fine of $500 and collect the same. The fact that the consul was apparently trying to force the issue by preventing the captain of the Caracas from depositing his papers in the usual way had, I found, been made known to General Castro when I last called to endeavor to persuade him that it would be a gracious act on his part—one indicating his good will toward the United States—to suspend the operation of the law relating to the custody of the papers of foreign ships in Venezuelan ports until it could be repealed or amended in a satisfactory way.

* * * * * * *

If General Castro does not act within a fortnight in respect to this matter there will be no reason to think the desired end will be attained from his Government through ordinary methods.

I have, etc.,

Francis B. Loomis.
[Page 790]

H. L. Boulton & Co. to Mr. Loomis.

Monsier le Ministre: The American steamer Caracas arrived at La Guaira yesterday morning and Captain Woodrick delivered the register of the ship to the custom-house authorities in compliance with the Venezuelan law on the matter.

The United States consul at La Guaira, Mr. Louis Goldschmidt, has to-day imposed a fine of $500 to the said Captain Woodrick for having delivered his register as aforesaid instead of delivering it to him.

Your excellency is no doubt aware that since the establishment of the Red D Line, its steamers, as well as those of all other foreign lines calling at the Venezuelan ports, have always complied with the Venezuelan law, because its nonobservance implies a fine to the vessel of from 2,000 to 2,500 bolivars and the delivery of a bond from her agents for 10,000 bolivars, which bond is enforced if the register is not delivered to the custom-house authorities. The custom-house authorities refuse, besides, all legal clearance to foreign vessels not having delivered the register.

Now if the steamers of the Red D Line deliver their registers to the United States consuls they are imposed a fine by the Venezuelan Government, as above mentioned, and we, as general agents for the line have to give bond for a further sum of 10,000 bolivars; and, on the other hand, if the said steamers, in compliance with the Venezuelan law, deliver their registers to the custom-house authorities the United States consul now imposes a fine to the captain of $500, thus creating a very abnormal situation to the Red D Line.

We, as general agents for the Red D Line, which has been trading with Venezuela for over twenty years, have to look after its interests in Venezuela to the best of our abilities and have to decline all pecuniary responsibility arising from the acts of the United States consuls or of the commanders of the United States war vessels which might be against the laws of Venezuela, unless we be otherwise instructed in writing by your excellency as the representative of the United States Government in Venezuela, since we have to presume that the United States consular agents as well as the commanders of the United States war vessels in Venezuelan waters are all under your control and orders.

We have, etc.,

H. L. Boulton & Co.
[Inclosure 2.]

Mr. Loomis to H. L. Boulton & Co.

Sirs: I am in receipt of your esteemed favor of the 14th instant in which you state that the United States consul at La Guaira has imposed a fine of $500 upon Captain Woodrick of the Caracas for having delivered his register to the Venezuelan custom-house authorities instead of delivering it to him, the consul, as required by the laws of the United States.

I have no responsibility for the action of the consul or the commander of the United States naval vessel now at La Guaira in this matter, but I will forward a copy of your letter to the Secretary of State at Washington with an explanation of the circumstances which drew it forth.

Very truly, yours,

Francis B. Loomis.
[Inclosure 3.]

Mr. Goldschmidt to Mr. Woodrick.

Whereas yesterday, on the 13th day of November, 1899, there arrived in this port the American steamship Caracas, of Wilmington, whereof you are master, [Page 791] late from New York, and whereof you have failed to deposit at this consulate the register and other ship’s papers of said steamship Caracas, as required by Revised Statutes of the United States, sections 4309 and 4310, as per copies annexed, I, the undersigned, consul of the United States at this port, therefore impose upon you a fine of $500, as per said law, as a penalty for failure to deposit said papers in my care.

Louis Goldschmidt,
United States Consul.