File No. 763.72112/1217

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

No. 1442]

Sir: Referring to correspondence which has passed between the Department of State and this Embassy since the outbreak of the war in regard to the seizure and detention of American vessels and cargoes by the British Government authorities, I have the honor to present herewith for the consideration of the Department a statement of the actual existing conditions and of the actions of this Embassy in connection therewith, and also a summary of the procedure which has been adopted by this Embassy with a view to expediting, under instructions, the release of such ships and cargoes as have been detained.

As the Department is aware, two distinct situations have arisen in this connection; the first being the action of the British Government in detaining ships and cargoes with a view to preventing contraband and conditional contraband from proceeding to Germany, before the promulgation of the order in council of March 11, and the second being the endeavor of the British Government, after the above-mentioned date, to prevent all goods of any description from proceeding to the German Empire.

Referring to the class of ships which were detained prior to the order in council, it will be found that the British Government has given as the reason for detention in most cases:

  • (a) that the vessel carried contraband; or
  • (b) that there was an apparent irregularity in the ship’s papers;

or

  • (c) that the ultimate destination of contraband or conditional contraband cargo consigned to a consignee in a neutral country was suspected.

[Page 424]

After the publication of the order in council of March 11, and the formation of the Netherlands Oversea Trust, the majority of ships which have been detained are those carrying cotton, the cargoes of most of which have been consigned to some firm in one of the Scandinavian countries, and the delay which has been occasioned appears to be due to the fact that investigations as to the consignee have taken much time, and also in cases where the British Government had decided to discharge a portion of the cargo of the detained ship before releasing the vessel.

A study of the record of the case of every ship, which are kept in alphabetical order and which contain a chronological history of each vessel which has been brought to the attention of the Embassy and about which representations have been made to the Foreign Office, will show that the Embassy has endeavored to immediately apprise the Foreign Office of the instructions which it has received, and has in every case requested exact information as to the reasons for the detention, and further has pressed for the prompt release.

Upon the receipt of information as to the detention of any American vessel or cargo, the Embassy has immediately brought this fact to the attention of the Foreign Office, and has requested that it be apprised of the reasons for the detention, and has asked, if no objection was found on the part of the British Government to so doing, that the vessel be immediately allowed to proceed to her destination. It has been the endeavor of the Embassy to impress upon the Foreign Office the fact that information of a definite character as to the detention of every vessel carrying American cargo is absolutely necessary, and also that the delay caused by investigation and in the discharge of that part of the cargo which the British Government decided to place in the prize court, has caused extreme discontent in the United States....

Copper, foodstuffs, and machinery have been the principal articles which have been placed in the prize court by the British Government, and in some cases these goods have been purchased outright before trial proceedings were entered into. The delay in the decision as to the prices of these goods and the final payment has occasioned more dissatisfaction on the part of the American shippers than the fact of the detention, as ultimately they consider that they will receive a fair and satisfactory price.

In the case of the S. S. Antilla, detained at Kirkwall the latter part of February, after repeated representations to the Foreign Office, the British Government informed the Embassy that the discharge of the items of the cargo which had been placed in the prize court had been retarded owing to the difficulty in finding suitable berthing accommodation for the vessel on account of the congestion of the docks at Dundee, and, even in view of repeated requests that the vessel be promptly discharged, the British Government appear to have been unable to accomplish this in shorter time than was taken, the Foreign Office stating that it was a physical impossibility to proceed faster with work of unloading.

The question of the consignment of goods to the Netherlands Oversea Trust is one which has involved a great deal of delay, which it has been impossible for this Embassy to prevent, as the Foreign [Page 425] Office have stated on repeated occasions that it would be impossible for instructions to be issued for the clearance of any vessel carrying contraband or conditional contraband for any Dutch port until advices had been received from the British officials in Holland stating that all the cargo was consigned in the proper way to the Netherlands Oversea Trust.

The attention of the Department is respectfully requested upon the case of the S. S. Segurança, an American vessel which had its cargo consigned to certain Dutch firms and was detained by the British authorities in order that all the items of the cargo might be reconsigned to the Netherlands Oversea Trust, which procedure the British Government is endeavoring to enforce in all cases with the utmost strictness. A transcript of a chronological history of the detention of this vessel, which has been copied verbatim from the list of cases of ships which is kept on record in the Embassy, is enclosed herewith.1 It is respectfully desired to draw the Department’s attention [to what] might appear to be a long delay in the presentation to the Foreign Office of the instructions of the Department in connection with this case. On April 9 the Department cabled the Embassy instructing it to inform the Foreign Office as to the objection of the owners to the detention of this vessel, and further directing that this matter be brought to the attention of the Consul General. This cablegram was received on Saturday, April 10, and, as no action is taken on Sunday by the Government committee which sits on questions regarding ships, the matter was held until the early part of the next week when a conference was held with the Consul General in order that the Embassy might be informed as to the result of the negotiations between Mr. Skinner and the Procurator General. Mr. Skinner had addressed a note to the Procurator General on April 13, and in the conference it was decided, for the better representation of the matter to the Foreign Office, to wait until an answer had been received by him from the Procurator General’s office. Accordingly, on the receipt of the Consul General’s letter embodying this information, a note was addressed to the Foreign Office in the sense of the Department’s instructions and incorporating certain requests made by Mr. Skinner on behalf of the owners of part of the cargo.

It is also desired to point out to the Department that its cablegram No. 1512 of May 62 was not received at the Embassy until late that night, and was not deciphered until the following day. As there were certain groups in this cable which were undecipherable and which appeared to be most pertinent to its meaning, corrections had necessarily to be called for, and it was not until early in the following week that the cable was in such a condition as could be properly dealt with, and a note in the sense of the Department’s instructions contained therein was dispatched to the Foreign Office on the 13th instant.

This Embassy has on record in its list of ships 134 cases concerning American vessels and cargoes with which it has dealt since the outbreak of the war. Of these, 33 cases have to deal with cargoes of cotton which have been detained by the British Government. Of [Page 426] this number, the cargoes of 8 vessels are now before the prize court, 10 have been released with their cargoes, 3 of which were permitted to go forward before the publication of the order in council. The British Government have agreed to purchase all or part of the cargo of 13 of these ships; in several cases part of the cargo has been put in the prize court and part the British authorities state they will purchase. There are 2 cargoes regarding which no reply has yet been received from the Foreign Office to the representations made by the Embassy.

Since the beginning of the war there have been placed in the British prize court the whole or part of American cargoes from 46 vessels which were detained by the British Government. In most instances the vessels were allowed to proceed after discharging the cargo or a portion of the cargo, and in a few instances the ship and cargo were both placed in the prize court; 31 vessels carrying American cargo detained by the British authorities, about which representations have been made by the Embassy to the Foreign Office, have been released. Investigations are being made by the British Government at the present time concerning 10 vessels carrying American cargo. Representations have been made to the Foreign Office by the Embassy in respect to claims against the British Government for losses occasioned to American shippers of cargoes through the detention of the ships on which these cargoes were carried in 8 cases; 5 vessels have been requisitioned by the British Government, about which representations were made to the Foreign Office by the Embassy according to the instructions of the Department or the request of the owners; 3 of these vessels were released and 2 held by the British Government. The American cargo on board 1 ship was seized; it was afterwards decided by the British authorities that this cargo was not liable to seizure and it was therefore purchased.

The procedure to which the Embassy has endeavored to conform is as follows:

Upon the receipt of information from the Department of State or any private parties as to the detention of any vessel by the British Government, a note has immediately been addressed to the Foreign Office requesting full details as to the cause of the detention, and in most cases asking for release. In cases where the Foreign Office have informed the Embassy that a vessel was detained, and given some specific reason, the Embassy has at once advised the Department of State by cable. In other cases where the Foreign Office has addressed a note to the Embassy merely stating that a vessel was held, the Embassy has requested all details regarding its detention. In cases of delay in a reply by the Foreign Office to its representations, I have brought the matter personally to the attention of Sir Edward Grey, or Mr. Laughlin or Mr. Stabler has conferred with Sir Eyre Crowe, one of the Under Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs who is at the present time at the head of the contraband department, and a memorandum has been left with him requesting prompt action.

I have been informed that the case of each vessel which is detained by the British Government is decided upon by a committee composed of representatives of the Foreign Office, the War Office, the Admiralty, and the Board of Trade. The Foreign Office states that the [Page 427] delay which is caused is due to the consideration of the many technicalities involved in each case, and that although they endeavor to deal as promptly as possible with all matters under their consideration, nevertheless it is impossible to make decisions without care, which involves some length of time. I have continually impressed upon Sir Edward Grey the desire of the Government of the United States to have every case expedited, and he has, I feel sure, endeavored to do all in his power to comply with my request, and it appears that during the past six weeks the Embassy has been more promptly advised than heretofore as to the actions of the Government authorities in this connection.

I shall continue to urge for promptitude in the presenting to the Embassy of all the reasons for the detention of any ships carrying American cargo, in the speedy discharge of cargoes which it has been decided to place in the prize court, and in the immediate settlement for cargoes of cotton which the British Government has decided to purchase.

I have [etc.]

Walter Hines Page
  1. Not printed.
  2. Ante, p. 381.