The Secretary of State to the British Ambassador (Spring Rice)

Excellency: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your excellency’s note of the 26th ultimo in relation to the steamship Farn, or KD–3 which has been interned in the port of San Juan, Porto Rico, as a tender to a belligerent fleet. The Department is advised that the Farn left Cardiff about September 5, 1914, for Montevideo, with a clause in here charter to deliver coal to warships if they so desired. Though, as you state, the vessel was not employed as a collier, or otherwise, in the Admiralty service, this fact would not in the opinion of the Department affect her status at the time of internment if she indeed acted as a collier or auxiliary to a belligerent fleet. It is understood that the Farn was a British merchant vessel; that she had on board a cargo of Cardiff coal amounting to some 3,000 tons; that she was captured by the German cruiser Karlsruhe on October 5; that the cruiser placed a prize crew and officers on board; and that notwithstanding the known practice of the Karlsruhe to sink her enemy prizes, the vessel had been at sea continuously since the date of capture until she put into the port of San Juan on January 12 last for provisions and water. The Department believes that the only reasonable conclusion in the circumstances, is that between October 5 and January 12 the Farn was used as a tender to German warships. It appears obvious that a belligerent may use a prize in its service and that the prize thereby becomes stamped with a character dependent upon the nature of the service. It is upon this view of the case that the United States Government concluded to treat the vessel as a tender, which character accords with her presumed service to the German fleet.

Your excellency states that it would be necessary before the vessel could be treated as a German fleet auxiliary that she should have been condemned by a competent prize court. With this conclusion the Government of the United States is under the necessity of disagreeing. In the opinion of this Government an enemy vessel which has been captured by a belligerent cruiser becomes as between the two governments the property of the captor without the intervention of a prize court. If no prize court is available this Government does not understand that it is the duty of the captor to release his prize, or to refuse to impress her into its service. On the contrary, the captor would be remiss in his duty to his Government and to the efficiency of its belligerent operations if he released an enemy vessel because he could not take her in for adjudication.

As to Article 21 of Hague Convention No. XIII of 1907 cited by your excellency as prescribing the treatment to be accorded to the Farn, it is only necessary to state that as it appears that His Majesty’s Government has not ratified this convention it should not be regarded [Page 824] as of binding effect between Great Britain and the United States.

In this relation I venture to call to your attention that the British Consul at San Juan protested on January 12 against the clearance of the Farn, and that your excellency in your note of January 13 requested that she be detained in the interest of neutrality. It was not until January 17 that your excellency informed the Department that His Majesty’s Government presumed that the United States would act under Article 21 of Hague Convention No. XIII of 1907 in regard to the release of the vessel. Sufficient time had thus elapsed to allow for communication with British warships and their appearance off the port of San Juan. The result of releasing a German prize loaded with coal at this juncture needs no comment.

In the circumstances the Government of the United States, is under the necessity of adhering to its decision to intern until the end of the war the steamship Farn as a fleet auxiliary.

I have [etc.]

For the Secretary of State:
Robert Lansing