The Secretary of State to the British Chargé ( Chilton )

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Ambassador’s note No. 304 of April 18, 1923,2e in which he inquired whether His Majesty’s Government are correct in interpreting the effect of Section 7 of the Suits in Admiralty Act to be as follows:

“If a suit is brought in the courts of a foreign country against a merchant vessel owned or operated by the United States Government, bail or its equivalent will be given on behalf of the United States Government and, if judgment is rendered against the vessel, payment will be made.”

A communication dealing with the matter has been received from the appropriate authority of this Government,2e in which it is stated that broadly speaking, the interpretation of Section 7 of the Suits in Admiralty Act as stated by the Ambassador is correct. It is pointed out that it would be more exact to state that the Ambassador correctly stated the practice which has ordinarily been followed and will continue ordinarily to be followed in cases of this character. However, Section 7 does not require that such practice shall be followed, but merely authorizes the proper officers of the United States to adopt such practice.

It is also observed that possibly cases will arise in which it will be considered undesirable to furnish bail or its equivalent on behalf of the United States, and in such cases the vessel seized will be disposed of by the country directing the seizure in accordance with its ordinary practice in similar cases.

While the term “merchant vessel” employed in the Ambassador’s note No. 304 of April 18, 1923, was doubtless used to refer to a vessel owned by the United States only when engaged in commercial pursuits, it is suggested, for sake of precision, that the term should be definitely construed to have such a significance.

It may be observed that foreign admiralty judgments are paid by the United States Treasury “out of any money in the Treasury of the United States not otherwise appropriated” pursuant to the provisions of Section 8 of the Suits in Admiralty Act, upon receipt of copies of the judgments certified as provided in Section 7 of that Act.

All vessels in the charge of the United States Shipping Board are owned by the United States. When such vessels are seized or threatened with seizure in Admiralty proceedings abroad it has been the [Page 272] practice, particularly in Great Britain, to effect their release by the giving of a stipulation by the foreign representative of the Shipping Board. I am informed that judgments rendered in these cases are paid in the same manner as judgments in cases where the procedure provided in Section 7 of the Suits in Admiralty Act has been followed.

Accept [etc.]

Charles E. Hughes
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.