File No. 195.1/304

The British Ambassador (Spring Rice) to the Secretary of State

Dear Mr. Secretary: You informed me yesterday that an American gentleman was anxious to buy a German ship and employ her in his business—especially in shipping mahogany to South and Central American ports. You said that this gentleman was in doubt as to what would be the attitude of my Government towards the transfer of the flag and whether they would regard it as valid.

I beg to reply that it would not be in accordance with precedent to give any definite pledge beforehand as to what would be the action of a prize court should the question come before it for adjudication. I can however inform you that speaking generally, my Government like your own does not regard the transfer of the flag after the outbreak of hostilities as illegal, although it considers that it is always to be regarded with suspicion. In the present case, however, it would seem to me that the purchaser would have nothing to fear if he is able to prove that he bought the ship outright and unconditionally for commercial purposes, is manning it with a neutral [Page 678] crew, and employs it on neutral business, trading between neutral ports.

It would obviously be unsafe to send the ship on a voyage to an enemy port or to a port which is used for supplying the enemy but if employed on this side of the ocean, as long as she does not fall under the suspicion of supplying enemy cruisers, I do not imagine she would be in danger of seizure.

It would however be as well to inform the British Consul of the circumstances of the sale in order that he might report on the matter to London.

I am [etc.]

Cecil Spring Rice
  1. Date of receipt not indicated.↩