File No. 341.115Am319/75
The Ambassador in Great Britain ( Page ) to the Secretary of State
[Received 10.15 p. m.]
3376. My 3368, December 8.1 I have just received the following note from Sir Edward Grey:
I have the honour to state that I have had under consideration your excellency’s note of the 2d instant and memorandum of the same date respecting the steamships Hocking and Genesee.
According to the memorandum I observe that the State Department has been advised that these and the other eight ships in the same category are [Page 626] the property of the Transatlantic Trading Company, an American corporation, the stock of which is stated to be owned entirely by American citizens to the exclusion of direct or indirect foreign interests.
Up to the date of my memorandum of the 7th ultimo (163854) it was generally held that these ships were the property of the American Transatlantic Company, in regard to which Mr. T. E. Chamberlain. United States Commissioner of Navigation, stated in writing on June 16 last: “Not one dollar of American money is invested in this ship (then called the Leonidas Cambanis, Greek registry) or seven others recently purchased under similar conditions” and “These ships are not entitled to the American flag.”1
For this and other reasons His Majesty’s Government consider that the exact status of the ships can only be determined to the satisfaction of all parties on the evidence to be submitted by both sides in the prize court and I take this opportunity to observe that in bringing such ships before the court His Majesty’s Government and the French Government are merely applying a principle which is sanctioned by the practice not only of the British but of the United States courts in the past.
His Majesty’s Government much regret the inconvenience caused to the United States Government by the shortage of tonnage because the same difficulty to which the promiscuous destruction of merchant shipping by German submarines has largely contributed is also experienced by His Majesty’s Government.
In view of this consideration, His Majesty’s Government are willing not to capture the remaining ships of the company unless they are found to be carrying contraband until the prize court has given a decision in the cases which are now pending, provided of course that the proceedings in court are not unduly prolonged by the defendants.
As regards requisitioning, these ships are being formally requisitioned for transfer to this country in order that both cases being of the same nature may be heard in the same court, and, in view of the shortage of tonnage to which your excellency refers, the opportunity will be taken to convey cargoes awaiting shipment. The action of His Majesty’s Government in this respect is supported by American precedents during the Civil War. For instance, the British steamer Memphis was requisitioned by the United States authorities immediately after capture without notice being given to any claimant, this procedure being upheld by the United States prize court, while the British schooner Stephen Hart was actually requisitioned and sold one year before judgment was pronounced.
I need hardly remind your excellency that if the prize court does not condemn these ships the requisitioning will in no way prevent their being returned to their owners and as the latter could not in any case make use of them while proceedings are pending they lose nothing by what is being done.