File No. 763.72112/1259

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


2325. Lord Crewe, in charge of Foreign Office during Sir Edward Grey’s temporary absence, has just handed me a printed memorandum dated June 17. It is not an answer to the principles set forth in the note transmitted in your 1343 of March 30,1 but merely an explanation of concrete cases and the regulations under which they are dealt with. Foreign Office wishes to arrange for simultaneous publication here and in Washington morning of 25th inst. Please telegraph if this date is satisfactory. Memorandum reads as follows:

1. His Majesty’s Government have on various occasions, and notably in the communication which was addressed to the United States Ambassador on the 15th March last, given assurances to the United States Government that they would make it their first aim to minimize the inconvenience which must inevitably be caused to neutral commerce from the existence of a state of war at sea, and in particular from the measures taken by the Allied Governments for the restriction of the enemies’ oversea trade. In view of the representation and complaints made to this department by the Ambassador from time to time as to the peculiar hardships alleged to have been wrongly inflicted on American trade and shipping by the operation of those measures, His Majesty’s Government desire to offer the following observations respecting the manner in which they have consistently endeavoured to give practical effect to those assurances.

2. It will be recalled that, at the moment when His Majesty’s Government announced their measures against enemy commerce, they declared their intention to refrain altogether from the exercise of the right to confiscate ships or cargoes, which belligerents had always previously claimed in respect of breaches of blockade; that under Article 5 (1) of the enactment of the 11th March, it was expressly provided that any person claiming to be interested in goods placed in the prize court in pursuance of the provision of that enactment, might forthwith issue a writ against the proper officer of the Crown, the object being to confer upon claimants the right to institute proceedings without waiting for the writ of the procurator general, and thus to remove all possible cause of legitimate grievance on account of delay; and that, finally, a pacific [specific?] assurance was given to the United States Government that the instructions to be issued by His Majesty’s Government to the fleet, and to the customs officials and executive officials concerned, would impress upon them the duty of acting with the utmost dispatch consistent with the object in view, and of showing in every case such consideration for neutrals as might be compatible with that object, namely, to prevent vessels carrying goods for, or coming from, the enemy’s territory.

[Page 444]

3. The above measures were all designed to alleviate the burdens imposed upon neutral sea-borne commerce in general. Various special concessions, over and above those enumerated, have moreover been made in favour of United States citizens.

4. Thus His Majesty’s Government have acted, as regards shipments of American cotton, in accordance with the provisions of an arrangement arrived at in direct collaboration with representatives of the American cotton interests. In accepting this scheme, the principal representative of those interests described it as conceding all that American interests could properly ask. The provisions of the arrangement were, as the United States Ambassador is aware, as follows:

All cotton for which contracts of sale and freight engagements have already been made before the 2d March is to be allowed free [or bought at contract price if stopped], provided the ship sails not later than the 31st March.
Similar treatment is to be accorded to all cotton insured before the 2d March, provided it is put on board not later than the 16th March.
All shipments of cotton claiming the above protection are to be declared before sailing, and documents produced to, and certificates obtained from, consular officers or other authority fixed by the Government.

5. Considerable shipments of cotton have already been dealt with under this arrangement, and in certain cases the dates specified have been extended in favour of American shippers. The Board of Trade have already paid a sum exceeding £450,000 to various American claimants, and all claims are being and will continue to be paid as rapidly as they are presented and the proofs of title can be checked. If in some cases progress has been delayed, this has been due to the fact which has seriously embarrassed His Majesty’s Government—that a number of consignments, for which the American shippers had specifically invoked the protection of the arrangement, are now claimed by Swedish and Dutch firms, whose title of ownership, notwithstanding the action of the American shippers, appears in some cases to be valid, and in others has led to the issue of writs in the prize court.

6. It has been explicitly acknowledged by the special representatives of the American claimants, who have been in constant and direct communication with the Board of Trade, that all the claims so far submitted under the cotton arrangement have been settled with the utmost promptitude so soon as the production of the necessary documents by the claimants allowed of this being done. There is, at the present moment, no claim before His Majesty’s Government that has not been paid, and the sums so paid over are already considerably in excess of the amounts realized by the sale of the goods.

7. As regards the more general allegation of delay in dealing with cases of detained cargoes, the following facts and figures may be quoted:

The total number of vessels which, having cleared from United States ports since the initiation of the retaliatory measures against German trade are still detained in United Kingdom ports, is 27; of this number, 8 are discharging cotton which His Majesty’s Government has agreed to purchase under the above arrangement. Of the remaining 19 vessels, 7 are free to depart so soon as the items of their cargo placed in the prize court have been discharged. The other 12, of which 3 only are American ships, are detained pending enquiries as to suspicious consignments and particulars as to the dates and approximate causes of detention are furnished in the accompanying list. It will be observed that 8 have been detained for a period of less than a week, and 3 for a period of less than a fortnight, while the detention of one is due to the difficulties in regard to transit across Sweden and Russia.

8. His Majesty’s Government remain convinced that, on an impartial review of the facts, it will be admitted that no arbitrary interference with American interests has, in regard to cotton cargoes, occurred; while if due regard be paid to the enormous volume of American and neutral shipping which is continually engaged in the transatlantic trade, the figures and dates quoted in the preceding paragraph will emphasize the restricted nature of any interference which has taken place and the close attention with which the officials concerned [Page 445] have adhered to their instructions to act in all cases with expedition and with every possible consideration for neutrals.

9. Since His Majesty’s Government have been compelled to adopt their present measures against German commerce, they have given special consideration to the question of avoiding as far as possible unnecessary damage to the interests of neutrals in regard to the export of goods of German origin, and here again liberal concessions have been made to United States citizens. Under the rules enacted on the 11th March provision is made for the investigation of all neutral claims respecting such goods in the prize court, and it is obvious that these claims can receive due and equitable consideration most properly before a judicial tribunal. Nevertheless, in deference to the express desire of the United States Government, arrangements were made towards the end of March whereby United States citizens who might desire to import goods of German origin via a neutral port were enabled to produce proof of payment to His Majesty’s Embassy at Washington. If such proof were deemed satisfactory, His Majesty’s Government gave an undertaking that the goods concerned should not be interfered with in transit, and the American importer was freed from the necessity of submitting his claim to the prize court in London for adjudication. A few days later His Majesty’s Government further agreed to recognize the neutral ownership of goods of enemy origin even if not paid for before the 1st March, provided they were the subject of an f. o. b. contract of earlier date, and had arrived at a neutral port before the 15th March.

10. Special treatment has also been accorded to cargoes of particular products destined for the United States and stated to be indispensable for the industries of the country; and, in notes addressed to the United States Ambassador in April and May, undertakings were given not to interfere during transit with certain cargoes of dyestuffs, potash, and German beet seed.

11. When it became apparent that large quantities of enemy goods were still passing out through neutral countries, His Majesty’s Government felt it necessary to fix a definite date after which such shipments must cease to enjoy the special immunity, theretofore granted, from liability to being placed in the prize court. It had been observed that a large increase had taken place in the number of vessels sailing from neutral countries to America and one of the principal lines of steamships advertised a daily in place of a weekly service. In such circumstances it appeared scarcely possible that goods of enemy origin, bought and paid for prior to the 1st March should not have already been shipped to their destination. First June was accordingly fixed as the date after which the privilege allowed in the case of such shipments should cease; but once more a special favour was granted by extending the date in exceptional cases to the 15th June.

12. Importers in the United States having now had three months in which to clear off their purchases in enemy territory, His Majesty’s Government trust that, in presence of the circumstances enumerated, the United States Government will acknowledge the great consideration which has been shown to American interests.

13. Nevertheless a fresh appeal has now been made to His Majesty’s Government that shipments of American-owned goods of enemy origin, if paid for before the beginning of March, should be allowed to be shipped without molestation after the 15th June. The appeal is based principally upon the contentions (a) that insufficient time has already elapsed; (b) that no mention of a time limit is made in the enactment of the 11th March; (c) that the proofs of ownership required by His Majesty’s Government are of an exacting nature and involve much time for preparation.

14. The first contention (a) has already been dealt with. As regards (b) and (c), it is true that the enactment of the 11th March contains no mention of a time limit. But it seems to be overlooked that the time limit had been fixed only for the special immunity granted as an exception from that enactment. It was as a friendly concession to American interests that His Majesty’s Government agreed to an investigation of claims outside the prize court. As for the exacting nature of the proofs required by His Majesty’s Government, experience has shown that such proofs were necessary.

15. In deference, however, to the renewed representations of the United States Ambassador, His Majesty’s Government have given further directions that in all such cases, as may have been specially submitted through the [Page 446] British Embassy at Washington or to His Majesty’s Government direct on or before the 15th June and passed, the goods shall be allowed to proceed without interference, if shipped from a neutral port on the conditions already laid down, notwithstanding the fact that shipment may not have been made before the 15th June.

16. His Majesty’s Government will also be prepared hereafter to give special consideration to cases presented to them and involving particular hardships, if the goods concerned are required for neutral governments or municipalities, or in respect of works of public utility, and where payment can be shown to have been made before the 1st March, 1915.

17. With the above exceptions, His Majesty’s Government regret they can not continue to deal through the diplomatic channel with individual cases, but they would again point out that special provision is made for the consideration of such cases in the prize court.

18. Complaints have not infrequently been made that undue delay occurs in dealing with American cargoes in the prize court. An interesting comment on this subject was made by the president of the prize court in the case of the cargo ex steamship Ogeechee on the 14th instant. His Lordship, according to the transcript from the official shorthand writer’s notes, made the following observations:

It is a very extraordinary thing that, when the Crown are ready to go on, the claimants come here and say, “We can not proceed for six weeks.” Some day, towards the end of last term, I had a row of eminent counsel in front pressing me to fix a case at once. I fixed it very nearly at once—that is to say, the second day of the following term. They all came and said: “We want an adjournment for six weeks.”

19. The solicitor general hereupon remarked:

If I might say so on that one of the reasons I applied to-day on behalf of the Crown that the matter should be dealt with as soon as possible is for that very reason [sic]. There has been such a strong desire on the part of America and American citizens that there should be no delay, but one finds, in fact, the delay comes from there.

20. The president then stated: “I know that. I do not know what the explanation is, but I am anxious that there should be no delay.”

21. It is true that a number of cases, principally relating to cargoes which, though ostensibly consigned to a person in a neutral country, are in reality believed to be destined for the enemy, have been pending in the prize court for some time. The United States Government are aware that most of these cargoes consist of meat and lard, and that much of the delay in bringing these cargoes to adjudication was due to the fact that negotiations were being carried on for many weeks with a representative of the principal American meat packers, for an amicable settlement out of court. When at length, owing to the failure of the negotiations, His Majesty’s Government decided that they would continue the prize-court proceedings, and had at the request of the claimants fixed the earliest possible date for the hearing, counsel for the latter asked for an adjournment in their interests despite the fact that the Crown was, by his own admission, ready to proceed.

22. His Majesty’s Government are earnestly desirous of removing all causes of avoidable delay in dealing with American cargoes and vessels which may be detained, and any specific enquiries or representations which may be made by the United States Government in regard to particular cases will always receive the most careful consideration and all information which can be afforded without prejudice to prize-court proceedings will be readily communicated; but they can scarcely admit that on the basis of actual facts, any substantial grievance on the part of American citizens is justified or can be sustained, and they therefore confidently appeal to the opinion of the United States Government as enlightened by this memorandum.

American Ambassador
  1. Ante, p. 152.