411.57 N 83/54

The Norwegian Minister (Bryn) to the Secretary of State

Mr. Secretary of State: By my note dated October 31, 1919,4 I had the honor to inform Your Excellency of the arrival of Captain C. Frölich Hanssen of Christiania, Norway, as the representative of a group of shipowners, called “The Christiania Group of Norwegian Shipowners”, in order to negotiate with the United States Shipping Board about a settlement of claims growing out of the requisition by the United States of ships under construction in American yards for account of members of said group of shipowners. I added that I had been ordered by the Norwegian Government to render every assistance to Captain Hanssen in this matter.

I asked that the United States Shipping Board be notified and, by a note of November 3, 1919,4 Your Excellency was good enough to inform me that a copy of my note had been transmitted to the Shipping Board.

Captain C. Frölich Hanssen thereupon entered into communication with the Shipping Board to which he, on November 5, 1919, submitted a brief in which he discussed the claims represented by “The Christiania Group of Norwegian Shipowners”, in all fifteen claims to an aggregate amount of $14,157,977.58, which claims (except one) had already been formally presented to the Board last June by the legal Counsel of the Group, Judge J. Harry Covington.

The Norwegian Government has, ever since the time of the first requisition order of August 3, 1917,5 been desirous of having the claims growing out of said order and subsequent similar orders settled by private negotiations between the representatives of the Norwegian shipowners concerned and the United States authorities. In my personal note to Your Excellency of June 3, 1918,4 I expressed the opinion that a settlement might be much easier obtained through [Page 573] private than through diplomatic negotiations, and in my personal note of November 21, 1918,6 I stated that the Norwegian Government had hitherto refrained from protesting against the requisition of the new-buildings as being an infraction of the Treaty of Commerce and Navigation of July 4, 1827, hoping that an agreement might be reached between the United States Government and the Norwegian owners as to a satisfactory settlement.

On June 3, 1919, an agreement was signed between Mr. Emil Stray, on behalf of the “Norges Rederforbund”, representing twenty-seven claims, and the United States Shipping Board, whereby a friendly settlement was reached through mutual concessions, in so far as said twenty-seven claims are concerned.

My Government has confidently hoped for a friendly settlement also of the fifteen claims represented by the association called “The Christiania Group of Norwegian Shipowners”. From the discussions which Captain C. Frölich Hanssen has had with representatives of the United States Shipping Board it is, however, evident that the prospects of a settlement by agreement with the Shipping Board are very remote. From statements made by Mr. E. M. Weaver, Chairman of the Requisition Claims Committee of the United States Shipping Board in a letter, dated November 26, 1919, to the counsel of the Christiania Group, Judge Covington, it appears that the Shipping Board is of the opinion that the liability of the Board towards the Norwegian owners can be disassociated from the liability of the Government of the United States under the treaties for the actions of the Shipping Board.

In the opinion of the Norwegian Government it is impossible to disregard the treaty rights in settling these claims, and as the United States Shipping Board does not see its way to consider the treaties, the Norwegian Government is compelled, much to its regret, to lodge with the Government of the United States an official and formal claim for indemnification of all damage and all loss caused to the Norwegian citizens represented by “The Christiania Group of Norwegian Shipowners” by infractions on the part of the United States of treaty stipulations existing between the two Governments.

Article XVII of the treaty concluded between Norway and Sweden and the United States on July 4, 1827,7 stipulates that various specifically named articles of the treaty of Amity and Commerce concluded at Paris on April 3, 1783,8 between the United States and Sweden are revived and made applicable to all the countries under the dominion of the parties to the treaty of 1827 and shall [Page 574] have the same force and value as if inserted in the context of the treaty of 1827.

Article XVII of the said treaty of 1783 runs as follows:

“One of the contracting parties being at war and the other remaining neuter, if it should happen that a merchant-ship of the neutral Power be taken by the enemy of the other party, and be afterwards retaken by a ship of war or privateer of the Power at war, also ships and merchandizes of what nature soever they may be, when recovered from a pirate or sea rover, shall be brought into a port of one of the two Powers, and shall be committed to the custody of the officers of the said port, that they may be restored entire to the true proprietor as soon as he shall have produced full proof of the property. Merchants, masters, and owners of ships, seamen, people of all sorts, ships and vessels, and in general all merchandizes and effects of one of the allies or their subjects, shall not be subject to any embargo, nor detained in any of the countries, territories, islands, cities, towns, ports, rivers, or domains whatever, of the other ally, on account of any military expedition, or any public or private purpose whatever, by seizure, by force, or by any such manner; much less shall it be lawful for the subjects of one of the parties to seize or take anything by force from the subjects of the other party, without the consent of the owner. This, however, is not to be understood to comprehend seizures, detentions, and arrests, made by order and by the authority of justice, and according to the ordinary course for debts or faults of the subject, for which process shall be had in the way of right according to the forms of justice.”

It is the opinion of the Norwegian Government that the orders of the United States Government requisitioning ships under construction and building contracts belonging to Norwegian citizens constituted an infraction of Article XVII of the treaty of July 4, 1827, and the therein mentioned Article XVII of the treaty of April 3, 1783, which stipulations certainly mean that the vessels and effects of citizens of Norway within the jurisdiction of the United States may not be appropriated against the owner’s will to the public use for military or any other purposes, even though compensation be tendered.

As before mentioned the fifteen claims submitted by Captain C. Frölich Hanssen amounted to a total of $14,157,977.58. This amount includes only what the Norwegian owners of the ships and contracts have actually paid for the same together with interest and expenses incurred. It was in order to facilitate an amicable agreement that the Christiania Group claimed only re-imbursement of outlay. But there is no reason why the Norwegian owners should waive their right to indemnification also for loss of profit and other indirect damage when the claim has to be presented officially by the Norwegian Government. A moderate amount for loss of profit and other indirect damage is therefore now added, raising the aggregate [Page 575] amount of the fifteen claims by about ten per centum or to a total of $15,600,000.

Acting under instructions from the Norwegian Government, the undersigned Minister Plenipotentiary has hereby the honor to ask from the Government of the United States an amount of 15,600,000 dollars as indemnification for damage and loss caused to Norwegian citizens by the violation of existing treaty stipulations on the part of the Government of the United States in appropriating the fifteen ships under construction and building contracts enumerated in the aforementioned brief of Captain C. Frölich Hanssen, dated November 5, 1919, a copy of which brief9 is attached to the present note.

Each claim is substantiated by the detailed affidavit of the present owner, or in the case of a corporation of the managing director or other proper officer. In support of the detailed affidavits there are receipts, certified statements of authorized auditors and certified bank statements showing the actual payments on which the claims are based. Also the originals or certified copies of all contracts and assignments have been procured. All these documents, originals or certified copies, can be produced to the Department of State by the Norwegian Legation whenever it is desired. All documents have, however, already been produced to the Shipping Board.

The Christiania Group of Norwegian Shipowners, having thus entrusted the Norwegian Government with the handling of the matter on their behalf in order that a settlement of the claims of the Group may be reached through diplomacy under existing treaty stipulations, the Group can, of course, not entertain any longer private negotiations with the United States Shipping Board, and the representative of the Group, Captain Hanssen, has, in a letter dated December 2, 1919, notified the United States Shipping Board accordingly.

Please accept [etc.]

H. Bryn
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. See telegram of Aug. 3, 1917, from the General Manager of the Emergency Fleet Corporation to the owners of American shipyards, Foreign Relations, 1917, supp. 2, vol. i, p. 614.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Not printed.
  6. Miller, Treaties, vol. 3, p. 283.
  7. Ibid., vol. 2, p. 123.
  8. Not printed.