The British Ambassador (Howard) to the Under Secretary of State (Olds)

My Dear Mr. Under-Secretary: You will no doubt remember that on the 24th October I spoke to you about the case of a strike of firemen on board the British S. S. “Firpark” at New Orleans on August 13th last and about the question that arose out of it, namely: whether a British Consul could summon a naval court in a United States Port under the provisions of the British Merchant Shipping Acts and whether a decision rendered by such a Court could count on any recognition by or support from the United States authorities. You kindly said that you would look into the matter if I sent you a memorandum explaining it in more detail.

I now enclose a memorandum detailing the circumstances of the incident and should be grateful to know the views of the State Department on the subject so that I may inform our Consuls accordingly.

Believe me [etc.]

Esme Howard

The British Embassy to the Department of State


On the afternoon of Saturday, August 13th, the “Firpark” being then due to depart from port on the following day, the firemen refused to raise steam and demanded their discharge. The State police authorities, to whom he appealed referred the Master to His Britannic Majesty’s Consulate-General at New Orleans on the grounds that, as the ship flew a foreign flag, it was not within their competence to intervene in the dispute. As a result of personal investigation, His Majesty’s Consul-General satisfied himself that the complaint prompting the attitude of the firemen reduced itself to the fact that, on Saturday August the 13th, when they went to the galley for their midday meal, they had found the food served in dirty messtins. Although the tins had been cleaned an hour after this incident, the men did not return for their food. The Master assured Mr. Tom that the tins would in future be kept properly clean. The latter therefore advised the firemen to return to work and raise steam but without success. He thereupon invoked the aid of the United States District Attorney who replied that, in his opinion, the matter was one with which Mr. Tom himself was fully competent to deal under Section 4081 of the United States Revised Statutes to the exclusion of any [Page 988]authority or jurisdiction of the United States. It should here be explained that His Majesty’s Consular Officers are not authorised to proceed in disputes of this nature beyond an effort to bring about an amicable settlement between the parties concerned. Failing the success of their efforts, the only course open to His Majesty’s Consular Officers is to summon a Naval Court to deal with the matter under Sections 480–486 of the British Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 and Sections 67 and 68 of the British Merchant Shipping Act of 1906, copies of which are annexed herewith60 for convenience of reference. In this connection, however, His Majesty’s Consul-General at New Orleans had occasion in December 1925 to address enquiries to His Majesty’s Embassy regarding the attitude of the United States Government towards the foregoing provisions of the British Merchant Shipping Acts and Mr. G. H. Thompson, then a member of His Majesty’s Embassy staff, was at that time given to understand, in conversation with Mr. Vallance and Mr. Baker of the State Department that the United States Government would not be prepared to recognise a Naval Court summoned under these provisions. Consequently, in the present instance, Mr. Tom hesitated to summon a Court although assured by the District Attorney at New Orleans that the local United States authorities would give effect to any decision which a Naval Court might render in the case. The legal advisers to the Consulate-General thus saw no alternative but to represent to the Master of the “Firpark” that it was in his best interest to discharge the recalcitrant seamen without penalties and engage substitutes in their place. The Master reluctantly acceded to this advice and on the evening of August the 16th the “Firpark” cleared from New Orleans by which time it had already sustained a loss of approximately $250.00 a day.

His Majesty’s Embassy have drawn attention at length to this incident because it illustrates the embarrassing position in which His Majesty’s Consular Officers and Masters of British ships are liable to be placed in cases where the local United States Judicial authorities refuse to take cognizance of disputes arising on board British vessels and where, owing to the provisions of the United States Immigration regulations, a Master cannot take immediate disciplinary action by discharging members of his crew and serious financial loss is thus occasioned to the owners of the vessel detained in port.

In these circumstances, His Majesty’s Embassy would be grateful to learn whether, on a further review of the situation, the United States Government would not be prepared to express their willingness to permit His Majesty’s Consuls in the United States, when necessity arises, to summon a Naval Court in accordance with the relevant provisions [Page 989]of the British Merchant Shipping Acts accompanying the present aide memoire, and to recognise and give effect to the findings of such a Court thereby obviating the recurrence of untoward incidents similar to that under reference.

  1. Enclosures not printed.