File No. 763.72112/886
The Consul General at Hamburg (Morgan) to the Secretary of State 1
[Received March 18.]
Sir: I have the honor to inform you that under the regulations of the German prize courts it is provided that the court has to announce in the Reichsanzeiger (the official organ) the time at which interested parties may enter their claims for damages on account of the seizure or destruction of cargo on enemies’ ships and such claims to entitle them to consideration must be entered within the time stipulated by the court—not less than two weeks’ nor more than two months’ notice shall be given for the time allowed for the presentation of claims and such notice will be given for the cargo of each steamer which will come before the prize court. Paragraph 28 of the German law, which is of particular interest to citizens of the United States, has been interpreted by the prize court to mean that no claim presented after the expiration of the time appointed in the public notices published by the prize court in the Reichsanzeiger will be recognized. It would result, therefore, that if a notice is [Page 347] given by the prize court to file claims within two weeks after the publication citizens of the United States would be unable to file their claims through German counsel for lack of time, and for this reason I propose to cable to the Department immediately such notice is published giving the name of the vessel whose cargo will come before the court and limit of time fixed for filing claims. It will always be possible to withdraw the claim if it should appear impossible to maintain it, but a claim, however valid, cannot be made after the time limit for presenting same has elapsed.
Claimants can only be represented before the prize court by German counsel and in order that counsel should be able to present the case it will be necessary to give at least the name of the vessel, a description of the cargo claimed, an estimation of the value and some indication as to what proof the claimant has that the cargo in question is the property of a citizen of the United States. A. full power of attorney should at once be sent. For the first application to the prize court, however, a simple telegraphic authorization to German counsel will be sufficient. It is not necessary that the full phraseology of an American power of attorney should be telegraphed. Any proofs which the claimant may have should be dispatched at the earliest possible moment and further proofs can be sent afterwards, although it will help the case considerably if such proofs as are available are produced on entering the claim.
The formal application to the prize court, which must be within the time limit as hereinbefore set forth, has only reference to open proceedings. The actual trial of the case will only be heard by the prize court later and there will always be sufficient time to fully prepare the case and produce the necessary proofs.
To secure a favorable decision it will be necessary in the first place to prove that the claimant is a citizen of the United States. If the claimant is a company, a sworn affidavit or some other official document must be produced showing conclusively that all partners of the firm are citizens of the United States. If one partner of the firm is a citizen or subject of an enemy state, this fact alone will debar the claimant. If the claimant should be a limited company, it will be necessary to prove by an official document that such company is incorporated and domiciled in the United States. It will furthermore be necessary to prove that the cargo at the time of its capture or destruction was the property of a citizen of the United States and the production of the bills of lading of such goods will, generally speaking, be accepted as competent proof; but it will be advisable to produce at the same time proof that the bill of lading has not passed into the hand of an alien enemy, such proofs, for instance, as bankers’ letters showing that the receiver has refused to accept the drafts annexed or similar documents.
The law does not exclude the right of claimants to bring proofs by witness and paragraph 56 of the law in question provides that prize courts may order a commission to issue to German consuls to take the evidence of witness. It is the general opinion, however, of prominent lawyers in Hamburg that the prize courts would not resort to the long and tedious process of taking the depositions in America, and it is therefore of great importance that as full documentary evidence as possible be produced.[Page 348]
From the decision of the prize court there is always an appeal to the supreme prize court and a notice of appeal must be given within two weeks alter the decision of the court of first instance has been handed down.
The prize court rendered a decision some time ago that the neutral owners of cargo on British vessels sunk by the German cruiser Karlsruhe had no right to claim for damages but an appeal has been taken from this decision. I am endeavoring to obtain a copy of the decision referred to and will send it forward when received.
All the foregoing information has been given after consultation with Dr. Stammann, of the firm of Dres. Schroeder, Stammann and Nolte, one of the most important and influential firms of attorneys in Hamburg.
Copies and translations of such parts of the German law as are cited in this despatch and which I have considered would be of interest to American citizens are enclosed herewith.
I have [etc.]
- This despatch, together with its enclosure, was printed by the Department and transmitted to parties making inquiries concerning ships and cargoes captured or destroyed by German naval authorities.↩