File No. 300.115/9287

The Department of State to the British Embassy 1


The Department of State, with further reference to the British Embassy’s memorandum of July 29, 1916,2 regarding the seizure of certain goods shipped from the United States to the Philippines on the British steamer Chinese Prince and regarding the imposition of a fine on the vessel for failure to deliver certain cargo listed in its manifest, has the honor to inform the Embassy that the Department is now in possession of fairly complete information regarding these matters, and to advise the Embassy respecting this Government’s position with reference to them.

The Department has observed the statement in the Embassy’s memorandum to the effect that they have received instructions from His Majesty’s Government to represent the case to the Government of the United States with a view to the cancellation of the bond which the master of the vessel was required in accordance with provisions contained in the code of the Philippine Islands to give in connection with the imposition of a fine on the vessel, and with a view to the prevention of similar acts by authorities in the Philippine Islands in the case of other vessels.

The Department considers that it is extremely important that the manifest of a ship should contain a correct statement of the articles on board. Any deviation from such a requirement or any weakening of the application of the laws in regard thereto would apparently have a tendency to result in dishonesty, and the enforcement of such a requirement would appear to be of greater importance in times of war than in times of peace.

The fine in question appears to have been imposed on the vessel in accordance with a local law the propriety and reasonableness of which appear unquestionable, and it would seem that the local collector of customs would have been guilty of a serious neglect of duty had he not required satisfactory proof of the absence of blame on the part of the master of the steamer Chinese Prince for the conditions which prompted the local authorities to proceed against the vessel.

The Department is not prepared to take the view that the papers which it appears from the Embassy’s memorandum of July 29, 1916, [Page 432] were produced by the master of the vessel to the Philippine authorities undoubtedly released him from any charge of negligence. The questions at issue are such as it would appear should properly be determined by the appropriate courts of the Philippine Islands. And the Department has no present intention of interfering with the action of the local authorities in this or other similar cases which may arise in the future. If British subjects have been incidentally inconvenienced by acts of British authorities directed against commerce between the United States and the Philippine Islands, the British Government of course are in a position speedily to put an end to complaints of this character on the part of their subjects by promptly directing British naval authorities that such inexplicable and intolerable acts as the seizure, under the circumstances of the case under consideration, of neutral goods shipped by merchants in one American port to merchants in another American port must cease. Clearly measures for the relief of all parties who have suffered as a result of the acts of the British authorities should be initiated by the British Government.

In this relation the Department may call the Embassy’s attention to the fact that it has been informed by the American Consul General at Hongkong that acts of the character just mentioned have recently been perpetrated by British authorities in the seizure at that place of goods shipped on the steamer Kafue.

The Department may further inform the Embassy that the American Ambassador at London has been instructed to bring to the attention of the British Government the seizure of these goods and to inquire as to what belligerent rights they consider justify seizure of these goods shipped from neutral merchants in the United States to neutral merchants in the Philippine Islands; also to request that the Embassy be informed promptly as to what disposition it is the intention of the British authorities to make of the goods, and that they be forwarded at once. The Ambassador was further instructed to reserve all rights of reclamation for damages sustained by American citizens on account of the seizure of the goods.

The interference with goods shipped from New York to the Philippines creates a situation similar to that which would be presented should the British authorities interfere with coastwise trade between New York and New Orleans. This Government can not permit interference on the part of British authorities with commerce between American ports such as that which took place with regard to the cargoes of the steamers Chinese Prince and Kafue, by acts ostensibly directed against the trade of enemies.

  1. Copy sent to the Chargé in Great Britain, September 1, 1916.
  2. Ante, p. 424.