Mr. Loomis to Mr. Hay.
Caracas, November 15, 1899.
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.
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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.,