File No. 811.0151/108

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

No. 2477]

Sir: With reference to my telegram No. 8143 of to-day’s date,1 giving a summary of a note I have to-day received from the Foreign Office on the subject of the alleged use of the American flag by British vessels in order to escape capture and destruction by the enemy, with particular reference to the case of the steamship Buena Ventura which was raised by the German Foreign Office in its note to the Ambassador at Berlin of July 28 last, I have the honor to transmit herewith enclosed a copy of the note from the British Foreign Office on which my telegram was based, together with a copy of my note of September 29 last to Sir Edward Grey,1 which has occasioned this reply.

For convenience of reference, I venture to add that my request for information was made under the Department’s instruction No. 1585 of September 13 last.1 The memorandum of February 19 to which reference is made was communicated to the Department in my telegram No. 1674 of the same date.2

I have [etc.]

Walter Hines Page

The British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Grey) to the American Ambassador (Page)

No. 160683/15]

Your Excellency: In a number of communications with which your excellency has honoured me in the past four months you have brought to my notice reports which have reached the United States Government, from enemy and other sources, relating to the alleged use of the United States flag by British vessels in order to escape capture and destruction by the enemy. Your excellency has requested, under instructions from your Government, that enquiry might be made in each instance as to the foundation for the report and that the result of such enquiry might be communicated to you.

His Majesty’s Government, who desire, in this as in other matters, to comply so far as is in their power with any desire expressed to them by the United States Government, have endeavoured to furnish your excellency with the particulars required, though they have felt that no useful purpose could be served by collecting at some trouble the information necessary to substantiate, or, in many cases, to disprove, the allegation that British vessels had resorted to a well-known means of deceiving the enemy, and one which is neither contrary to the provisions of international law nor to those of the municipal law of this country, or, I believe, of the United States.

In replying to the enquiry contained in your excellency’s communication of September 29 last, I would therefore take the liberty of suggesting that your Government may, on further consideration of the matter, be willing to desist from bringing these reports to the notice of His Majesty’s Government or, at least, from putting forward the request for information by which they have hitherto been accompanied.

In making this suggestion I would remind your excellency that, in my memorandum of February 19 last, I stated that His Majesty’s Government had no intention of advising merchant shipping to use foreign flags as a general practice, or to resort to them otherwise than for escaping capture or destruction. At the same time I recalled to your excellency’s notice that cases were [Page 619] on record in which a corresponding use had been made of the British flag by United States vessels, and I expressed the view, which I am happy to say has not been falsified, that it would be contrary to fair expectation that the United States Government should now, when the positions are reversed, grudge to British ships liberty to take similar action.

The case dealt with in your excellency’s above-mentioned communication of September 29 is that of the steamship Buena Ventura which, according to what is represented by the German Government, sailed for this country from American ports in May last under the United States flag. The enquiries which have been made show that the information of the German Government may in this case well be correct since the vessel in question is a United States ship, her British register having been closed on September 9, 1914, on her sale to the United States Steel Products Company.

I have [etc.]

Sir Edward Grey
W. Langley
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Ante, p. 117.