File No. 763.72112/1664

The Consul General at London (Skinner) to the Secretary of State

No. 726]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the Department’s instruction No. 363, dated August 10, 1915,1 suggesting that there is no objection to my undertaking to bring together a meeting of neutral shipping interests, provided my actions are entirely unofficial, with a view to improving shipping conditions generally.

The Department’s instruction is based upon representations which I submitted on April 14 last,2 since which time a considerable amelioration is noticeable in the situation in consequence of various understandings which, whatever may be said for them from the point of view of legal right, certainly have brought about a substantial decrease in the number of ships seized.

Under the circumstances it would seem to me perhaps a manifestation of excessive zeal if I now undertook to encourage a meeting of shipping interests. In any event, I realize from other circumstances that it is exceedingly difficult to pursue a line of action unofficially without sooner or later creating the impression in the minds of the British authorities that the action is to all intents and purposes official.

As the Department is aware, ships proceeding to Holland must depart with cargoes consigned to the Netherlands Oversea Trust, except as to certain arrangements which appear to permit the importation into Holland of tobacco and southern fruit as in normal times. In Denmark an arrangement has been come to with the Merchants Guild of Copenhagen very like that existing between this country and the Netherlands Oversea Trust. In Sweden an arrangement has been made with the Spinners Association for the forwarding of cotton and arrangements for the handling of general merchandise are now the subject of negotiation between the two governments. In Norway an arrangement is announced to-day whereunder cotton may be forwarded under certain circumstances.

Since these several countries have safeguarded their interests as best they can, it is not quite easy to see how we can advantageously reopen the discussion. Since the going into effect of the order in council of March 11, 1915, the number of detentions at Kirkwall, to which port practically all ships destined to neutral ports (except those of Holland) are diverted, has been from month to month as follows:

From March 11–31 74
“ April 1–30 114
“ May 1–31 56
“ June 1–30 46
“ July 1–31 39
“ August 1–31 37

Very few detentions occur nowadays arising out of ignorance of shippers, practically all of whom are entirely familiar with prevailing conditions. A very large proportion of steamers traversing [Page 560] the Atlantic proceed to Kirkwall under orders and when captures are made, there is usually a suspicion, well or ill founded, that the master intended somehow to place his cargo within the control of the enemy.

I have [etc.]

Robert P. Skinner
  1. Ante, p. 505.
  2. Ante, p. 373.