The Acting Secretary of State to Minister Wilson.
Washington, September 6, 1905.
Sir: At the International Maritime Conference held at Brussels in February last the Government of the United States was represented by your predecessor, Mr. Lawrence Townsend, and by Judge William W. Goodrich, of New York, a member of the Maritime Law Association of the United States.
The object of the conference was to consider the drafts of two proposed international conventions in regard to salvage and collisions at sea, approved by the International Maritime Committee at their Hamburg Conference in 1902.
These drafts met with some objections in the Brussels Conference, but were finally adopted in an amended form by the conference with a view to their submission to the respective governments when the conference adjourned to a time to be fixed by the Belgian Government.
The Department is now informed by the Belgian legation at Washington that the adjourned conference has been called to meet at Brussels on October 16 next. The Department will be pleased to have you attend this conference in Mr. Townsend’s place. Judge Goodrich will be your colleague.
The drafts which the February conference agreed to submit to the governments have received consideration by the Department of Commerce and Labor and by the Maritime Law Association of the United States. It having been recommended by the conference that each government taking part therein might formulate for the consideration of the adjourned conference forms of such treaties as might be acceptable to it, the Maritime Law Association of the United States, in a letter dated June 13, 1905, submitted to the Department a form of treaty in reference to collisions at sea which, in the association’s opinion, [Page 72] “the Department of State might well present at the ensuing meeting of the conference” in place of the one proposed by the conference.
Having been requested to furnish its views on the form of treaty presented by the Maritime Law Association, the Department of Commerce and Labor, in a letter dated the 4th ultimo, states that it is reluctant to commit itself to the treaty as proposed by the February conference or to the amendments thereto proposed by the Maritime Law Association or to any definite propositions on the subject, for the following reasons:
- It understands that the American delegates were sent to the conference ad referendum and on the understanding that the Government of the United States would not be in any way committed by their action.
- While the Department of Commerce and Labor is disposed to approve generally the amendments proposed by the Maritime Law Association as probably meeting some of the objections to American participation in the conference, mentioned in Treasury Department letter of June 15, 1903,a such an approval, if accepted by you and includeded in instructions to our delegates, might be regarded as committing the government to the treaty. The interests of American exporters are involved, as well as of shipowners, and in this country are much more extensive. It has not been practicable to ascertain sentiment concerning the treaties in this country except that of the Maritime Law Association. The Department sees no objection to the issue of instructions to Minister Wilson that while this government is not definitely committed to the amendments, the amendments represent the views of the Maritime Law Association, an organization of the highest standing in the United States.
- As about 60 per cent of American foreign commerce is carried on by vessels of Great Britain and Germany and as those powers have not yet been represented at the conference, the Department is the more convinced that the general instructions to the American delegates should not be changed by specific approval of propositions before the conference by the Government of the United States.
In the Department’s No. 209, of February 1, 1905, it was stated that—
As the proposed conventions conflict in important particulars with existing laws of the United States, this government has consented to participate in the conference only on the accepted condition that it would not be in any way bound by the determination of the conference. For this reason it is not expedient to invest you with plenary power. Should you, in the light of the practical, technical, and legal knowledge you have on the subjects to be considered, think it advisable to sign the proposed conventions, you will do so ad referendum and subject to such legislation as may be necessary by the United States to make them effective.
This instruction was modified by that of February 9, 1905, No. 211, so that, instead of signing the conventions ad referendum and with the reservation stated, the delegates of the United States were to have provision made in the conventions for subsequent adhesion by nonsignatory governments, thus leaving the matters open for legislative action.
It is by this last-mentioned instruction and by the letter of August 4, 1905,a from the Department of Commerce and Labor that you are to be guided in your attendance at the October conference.
Should occasion require, the Department will be pleased to have you consult it by telegraph.
A copy of this instruction has been sent to Judge Goodrich for his information and guidance.
I am, etc.,