File No. 300.115/4343
The Consul General at London ( Skinner ) to the Secretary of State
[Received July 22.]
Sir: I have the honor to inform you that I addressed a cable despatch to the Department yesterday evening in regard to the detention of the American S. S. Neches in the port of London. The ship named came from the United States some weeks ago and was detained for a long time on the west coast before clearance was obtained which enabled the captain to proceed to Rotterdam to discharge [Page 483] cotton. Miscellaneous cargo was taken on board at Rotterdam for the return journey, and the ship shortly after putting out to sea was arrested by the British Admiralty and required to come to London to discharge under the order in council of March 11. Armed men came aboard the Neches when the arrest was made, and a pilot was placed in charge of the ship, who, at a certain point nearing the city of London, was displaced by a local pilot, so that the captain during that entire period was no longer in command of his ship, and declined all responsibility for the care of the ship under these circumstances.
When ordered to discharge the cargo, by my direction, the captain declined to do so at his own expense, and when this point was submitted to the Admiralty marshal, that official undertook to perform this work at the cost of the British Government. However, bills for enforced pilotage and wharfage dues now have come in, and these I have instructed the master of the ship to refuse to pay.
As the ship approached the city, in charge of an Admiralty pilot, a collision occurred with a laden barge, which was sunk, causing a loss of about £1,500 ($7,300). The owners have brought suit against the ship and I have informed the president of the prize court and the Admiralty marshal that, intending no disrespect whatever to their orders, the master would not defend the suit, and on his behalf I asked that the British Government accept full responsibility for its own acts. Furthermore, inasmuch as the screw of the Neches was damaged by the collision, and as the surveyors are requiring that it be replaced, I asked also that the British Government meet this bill and, similarly, bills for coal and ballast.
I have stated to the authorities that all of the losses and expenses above described proceed from their own direct interference with an innocent vessel engaged in lawful trade, and that as soon as the cargo was discharged from the ship and the damages to the screw repaired, we should demand clearance papers and a pilot, entirely regardless of the claims of private persons now attempting to hold the ship liable for bills of various kinds.
In my telegram to the Department I requested that instructions be cabled for my guidance, in the event that the public authorities refuse to allow the ship to proceed on Tuesday next unless the master himself pays the numerous bills piled up against him, which may amount to as much as $30,000. In my own judgment, we should hold the British Government strictly responsible for each item of expense, and refuse to bring suit in the prize court for reimbursement. The use of the docks, the time of pilots, and the like, have been imposed by the public authorities, and I am unable to understand how the master can be held responsible for payment.
The incidents arising out of the, detention of the Neches are so varied in character, involving as they do practically all of the accidents and occurrences possible in the case of an arriving vessel, that I am strongly convinced that we should make a test case and make a firm stand for all of our rights in the premises.
I may add that, in my communication to the public authorities and in my relations with them, the utmost friendliness prevails consistent with strong insistence in the sense of the foregoing.
I have [etc.]