File No. 763.72112/1218

The Ambassador in Great Britain ( Page ) to the Secretary of State

[Telegram]

1798. Following is the full text of a note, dated to-day, and an order in council I have just received from Grey:

1.
His Majesty’s Government have had under careful consideration the enquiries which, under instructions from your Government, your excellency addressed to me on the eighth instant regarding the scope and mode of application of the measures, foreshadowed in the British and French declarations of the first of March, for restricting the trade of Germany. Your excellency explained and illustrated by reference to certain contingencies the difficulty of the United States Government in adopting a definite attitude towards these measures by reason of uncertainty regarding their bearing upon the commerce of neutral countries.
2.
I can at once assure your excellency that subject to the paramount necessity of restricting German trade His Majesty’s Government have made it their first aim to minimize inconvenience to neutral commerce. From the accompanying copy of the order in council, which is to be published to-day, you will observe that a wide discretion is afforded to the prize court in dealing with the trade of neutrals in such manner as may in the circumstances be deemed just and that full provision is made to facilitate claims by persons interested in any goods placed in the custody of the marshal of the prize court under the order. I apprehend that the perplexities to which your excellency refers will for the most part be dissipated by the perusal of this document and that it is only necessary for me to add certain explanatory observations.
3.
The effect of the order in council is to confer certain powers upon the executive officers of His Majesty’s Government. The extent to which those powers will be actually exercised and the degree of severity with which the measures of blockade authorized will be put into operation, are matters which will depend on the administrative orders issued by the Government and the decisions of the authorities specially charged with the duty of dealing with individual ships and cargoes, according to the merits of each case. The United States Government may rest assured that the instructions to be issued by His Majesty’s Government to the fleet and to the customs officials and executive committees concerned will impress upon them the duty of acting with the utmost despatch consistent with the object in view and of showing in every case such consideration for neutrals as may be compatible with that object which is, succinctly stated, to establish a blockade to prevent vessels from carrying goods for or coming from Germans.
4.
His Majesty’s Government have felt most reluctant at the moment of initiating a policy of blockade to exact from neutral ships all the penalties attaching to a breach of blockade. In their desire to alleviate the burden which the existence of a state of war at sea must inevitably impose on neutral sea-borne commerce, they declare their intention to refrain altogether from the exercise of the right to confiscate ships or cargoes which belligerents have always claimed in respect of breaches of blockade. They restrict their claim to the stopping of cargoes destined for or coming from the enemy’s territory.
5.
As regards cotton, full particulars of the arrangements contemplated have already been explained. It will be admitted that every possible regard has been had to the legitimate interests of the American cotton trade.
6.
Finally, in reply to the penultimate paragraph of your excellency’s note, I have the honour to state that it is not intended to interfere with neutral vessels carrying enemy cargo of non-contraband nature outside European waters, including the Mediterranean.
[Page 144]

Order in Council of march 11, 1915

Whereas the German Government has issued certain orders which, in violation of the usages of war, purport to declare the waters surrounding the United Kingdom a military area, in which all British and allied merchant vessels will be destroyed irrespective of the safety of the lives of passengers and crew, and in which neutral shipping will be exposed to similar danger in view of the uncertainties of naval warfare; and

Whereas in a memorandum accompanying the said orders neutrals are warned against entrusting crews, passengers, or goods to British or allied ships;

Whereas such attempts on the part of the enemy give to His Majesty an unquestionable right of retaliation; and

Whereas His Majesty has therefore decided to adopt further measures in order to prevent commodities of any kind from reaching or leaving Germany, though such measures will be enforced without risk to neutral ships or to neutral or non-combatant life and in strict observance of the dictates of humanity; and

Whereas the Allies of His Majesty are associated with him in the steps now to be announced for restricting further the commerce of Germany;

His Majesty is therefore pleased, by and with the advice of his Privy Council, to order and it is hereby ordered as follows:

1. No merchant vessel which sailed from her port of departure after the 1st March 1915 shall be allowed to proceed on her voyage to any German port.

Unless the vessel receives a pass enabling her to proceed to some neutral or allied port to be named in the pass, goods on board any such vessel must be discharged in a British port and placed in the custody of the marshal of the Prize Court. Goods so discharged, not being contraband of war, shall, if not requisitioned for the use of His Majesty, be restored by order of the Court, upon such terms as the Court may in the circumstances deem to be just, to the person entitled thereto.

2. No merchant vessel which sailed from any German port after the 1st March 1915 shall be allowed to proceed on her voyage with any goods on board laden at such port.

All goods laden at such port must be discharged in a British or allied port. Goods so discharged in a British port shall be placed in the custody of the marshal of the Prize Court, and if not requisitioned for the use of His Majesty, shall be detained or sold under the direction of the Prize Court. The proceeds of goods so sold shall be paid into Court and dealt with in such manner as the Court may in the circumstances deem to be just.

Provided, that no proceeds of the sale of such goods shall be paid out of Court until the conclusion of peace, except on the application of the proper officer of the Crown, unless it be shown that the goods had become neutral property before the issue of this Order.

Provided also that nothing herein shall prevent the release of neutral property laden at such enemy port on the application of the proper officer of the Crown.

3. Every merchant vessel which sailed from her port of departure after the 1st March 1915 on her way to a port other than a German port, carrying goods with an enemy destination, or which are enemy property, may be required to discharge such goods in a British or allied port. Any goods so discharged in a British port shall be placed in the custody of the marshal of the Prize Court, and unless they are contraband of war, shall, if not requisitioned for the use of His Majesty, be restored by order of the Court, upon such terms as the Court may in the circumstances deem to be just to the person entitled thereto.

Provided, that this Article shall not apply in any case falling within Articles 2 or 4 of this Order.

4. Every merchant vessel which sailed from a port other than a German port after the 1st March 1915 having on board goods which are of enemy origin or are enemy property may be required to discharge such goods in a British or allied port. Goods so discharged in a British port shall be placed in the custody of the marshal of the Prize Court, and if not requisitioned for the use of His Majesty, shall be detained or sold under the direction of the Prize Court. The proceeds of goods so sold shall be paid into Court and dealt with in such manner as the Court may in the circumstances deem to be just.

Provided, that no proceeds of sale of such goods shall be paid out of Court until the conclusion of peace except on the application of the proper officer of [Page 145] the Crown, unless it be shown that the goods had become neutral property before the issue of this order.

Provided also, that nothing herein shall prevent the release of neutral property of enemy origin on the application of the proper officer of the Crown.

5. Any person claiming to be interested in, or to have any claim in respect of, any goods (not being contraband of war) placed in the custody of the marshal of the Prize Court under this order, or in the proceeds of such goods, may forthwith issue a writ in the Prize Court against the proper officer of the Crown and apply for an order that the goods should be restored to him, or that their proceeds should be paid to him, or for such other order as the circumstances of the case may require.

The practice and procedure of the Prize Court shall, so far as applicable, be followed mutatis mutandis in any proceedings consequential upon this Order.

6. A merchant vessel which has cleared for a neutral port from a British or allied port, or which has been allowed to pass having an ostensible destination to a neutral port, and proceeds to an enemy port, shall, if captured on any subsequent voyage, be liable to condemnation.

7. Nothing in this Order shall be deemed to affect the liability of any vessel or goods to capture or condemnation independently of this Order.

8. Nothing in this Order shall prevent the relaxation of the provisions of this Order in respect of the merchant vessels of any country which declares that no commerce intended for or originating in Germany or belonging to German subjects shall enjoy the protection of its flag.

American Ambassador