File No. 300.115/4432
The Ambassador in Great Britain ( Page ) to the Secretary of State
[Received 6.15 p. m.]
2573. Your 1852, 15th.1 Sir Edward Grey has to-day sent me the following note:
The note which your excellency addressed to me on the 17th [15th] instant, respecting the detention of the cargo of the steamship Neches, has, I need hardly say, received the careful attention of His Majesty’s Government.
The note which I had the honour to send to your excellency on the 23d in-instant2 has already explained the view of His Majesty’s Government on the legal aspect of the question, though it was prepared before your excellency’s communication of the 17th had been received, and pending consideration by the Government of the United States of the views and arguments set forth in the British note of the 23d, it is unnecessary for me to say more on the question of right or of law.
There is, however, one general observation that seems relevant to the note from your excellency respecting the cargo of the Neches.
It is the practice of the German Government in the waters through which the Neches was passing to sink neutral as well as British merchant vessels irrespective of the destination of the vessel or of the destination or origin of the cargo, and without proper regard or provision for the safety of passengers or crews, many of whom have lost their lives in consequence. There can be no question that this action is contrary to the recognized and settled rules of international law, as well as to the principles of humanity.
His Majesty’s Government, on the other hand, have adhered to the rules of visit and search, and have observed the obligation to bring into port and submit to a prize court any ships or cargoes with regard to which they think they have a good case for detention or for condemnation as contraband.
His Majesty’s Government are not aware, except from the published correspondence between the United States and Germany, to what extent reparation has been claimed from Germany by neutrals for loss of ships, lives, and [Page 496] cargoes, nor how far these acts have been the subject even of protest by the neutral Governments concerned.
While these acts of the German Government continue, it seems neither reasonable nor just that His Majesty’s Government should be pressed to abandon the rights claimed in the British note of the 23d, and to allow goods from Germany to pass freely through waters effectively patrolled by British ships of war.
If, however, it be alleged that in particular cases and special circumstances hardship may be inflicted on citizens of neutral countries, His Majesty’s Government are ready in such cases to examine the facts in a spirit of consideration for the interest of neutrals, and in this spirit they are prepared to deal with the cargo of the Neches, to which your excellency has called attention, If it is held that the particular circumstances of this case fall within this category.