File No. 341.115St2/187

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

No. 2034]

Sir: The Department encloses a copy of a letter from the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, relative to the detention by the British authorities at Kirkwall of the company’s vessels. There is also enclosed a copy of the communication transmitted with the letter.1

You will forward copies of these communications to the Foreign Office and request that they receive the British Government’s serious consideration. In this relation you will further communicate with the British Government in the sense of the following:

The Government of the United States deplores the action of the British authorities in harassing the company’s legitimate trade in a manner which, in the opinion of this Government, has been characterized by repeated acts of illegality.

Without at this time entering into a detailed discussion of the illegal acts of the British authorities in interfering with the company’s vessels, a number of instances of which this Government has already brought to the attention of the Government of Great Britain, attention may be called in this relation to a few recent cases of flagrant disregard of the rights of the company.

On September 6 last the steamer Corning, which had cleared from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for Malmö and Stockholm, was seized [Page 630] and required to proceed to Kirkwall with a prize crew on board, although the boarding officer was shown the instructions of the owners to the captain to proceed to that port for examination. The ship remained at Kirkwall until September 25 and was then released and proceeded to its destination. Repeated endeavors on the part of American consular officers to ascertain some reason for the detention of the ship were unavailing. It appears that during the detention of the vessel both master and crew were treated as prisoners of war. No steps, so far as the Department has been advised, have been taken by the British Government to compensate the owners for this lawless treatment of vessel and crew.

According to an affidavit of the master of this vessel it appears that in May last the same vessel, while sailing from New York to Savona, Italy, was stopped by a British torpedo boat on the high seas and without any visit and search and without even an examination of the ship’s papers was ordered into the port of Gibraltar.

About a month ago the company’s steamer Llama was seized, presumably with the same disregard of law that has repeatedly characterized the treatment of the company’s vessels, none of which, so far as the Department is informed, has throughout the course of the war been found to carry any illegal shipments, and while in charge of the prize crew the vessel was wrecked and sunk.

The steamer Petrolite, which carried a cargo of illuminating oil in the company’s usual course of business with Scandinavian countries, was detained during last September for a period of about two weeks in the port of Kirkwall, where, as this Government understands, it had voluntarily entered, and was then allowed to proceed. The request of this Government for the release of the vessel, unless the British Government had evidence indicating the illegal destination of the cargo, was met by a reply which in effect was that the acknowledged belligerent right of search and examination would be rendered entirely nugatory if exercised in accordance with the established practice of nations governing the exercise of this right.

The conclusion seems irresistible that some of the British naval authorities have practically come to the conclusion that they are at liberty to deal with neutral commerce in complete disregard of the legal rights of neutral shippers. This Government hopes that steps may promptly be taken to impress on the appropriate authorities the seriousness of a continuation of such a course.

I am [etc.]

Robert Lansing
  1. Neither printed.