File No. 341.115G82/37
The Ambassador in Great Britain ( Page ) to the Secretary of State
[Received April 9, 8 p. m.]
1903. The Prime Minister has just handed me the following, which I have communicated to Hayes and Brooking, who strongly recommend its acceptance by their principals:
His Majesty’s Government share the desire of the United States Government for an immediate settlement of the case of the Wilhelmina . This American ship laden with foodstuffs left New York for Hamburg on January 22. She called at Falmouth of her own accord on February 9 and her cargo was detained as prize on February 11. The writ instituting prize-court proceedings was issued on February 27, and claimed that the cargo should be condemned as contraband of war. No proceedings were taken or even threatened against the ship itself, and in the ordinary course the cargo would have been unloaded when seized so that the ship would be free to leave. The owners of the cargo, however, have throughout objected to the discharge of the cargo and it is because of thin objection that the ship is still at Falmouth with the cargo on board.
His Majesty’s Government have formally undertaken that even should the condemnation of the cargo as contraband be secured in the prize court they would none the less compensate the owners for any loss sustained in consequence of the ship having been stopped and proceedings taken against the cargo.
It was understood at the time that the proceedings in the prize court would be in the nature of a test case, the decision in which would govern the treatment of any subsequent shipments of food supplies to Germany in similar circumstances. Since then the situation has, however, materially changed by the issue of the order in council of March 11, 1915, and the measures taken thereunder which prevent further supplies being sent from America to Germany, whether contraband or not.
In these circumstances there is no longer any object in continuing the judicial proceedings in the case of the Wilhelmina ; for it can no longer serve as a test case, and it is really agreed that the owners of the cargo, even if proved to have no claim, are to be treated as if their claim was good. Nothing therefore remains but to settle the claim on proper and just conditions, and this would, in the opinion of His Majesty’s Government, be secured most expeditiously and with the least inconvenience to all parties by an agreement between the Crown and the claimants for the disposal of the whole matter. His Majesty’s Government accordingly propose that such an agreement be arrived at on the following terms:
“His Majesty’s Government having undertaken to compensate the claimants by paying for the cargo seized on the basis of the loss of the profit the claimants would have made if the ship had proceeded in due course to Hamburg, and by indemnifying them for the delay caused to the ship so far as this delay has been due to the action of the British authorities, all proceedings in the prize court shall be stayed, on the understanding that His Majesty’s Government buy the cargo from the claimants on the above terms. The cargo shall be discharged and delivered to the proper officer of the Crown forthwith. The sum to be paid shall be assessed by a single referee nominated jointly by the Ambassador of the United States of America and His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who shall certify the total amount after [Page 364] making, such inquiries as he may think fit, but without formal hearing or arbitration.”
His Majesty’s Government would be grateful if the United. States Ambassador would inform the claimants of the above proposal at his early convenience and obtain their acceptance.