The British Embassy to the Department of State


The British Embassy have for some time past corresponded semiofficially with the Department of State in regard to the draft Convention on Oil Pollution prepared as a result of the conference held at Washington in the summer of 1926.

A member of the Embassy staff who discussed the present position respecting this Convention with an official of the Department in May last, understood that the German and Japanese Governments [Page 276] still maintained certain objections to the draft and that the Italian Government were not altogether satisfied with it. Moreover, there appeared to be no strong demand in the United States for bringing the Convention into force, and in these circumstances the Department of State were disposed to let the matter rest unless His Majesty’s Government or one of the other interested Powers moved the United States Government to take some further action.

The Embassy have now learned that His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom attach importance to the conclusion of the proposed Convention since this alone would enable the problem of oil pollution to be dealt with by international agreement. It will be remembered that at the Washington Conference in 1926 two measures were proposed, viz, the carrying of oil separators on all ships, or the fixing of zones round the coasts within which the discharge of oil or oily water should be prohibited. Neither of these measures would necessarily be a complete cure because it would, from the nature of the case, be impossible to be certain that the separators on board the ships would be used as they should be used on all occasions, and it would equally be impossible to secure evidence of the improper discharge of oil within prohibited zones. They were, however, the only measures which Governments, as such, could take to deal with this nuisance, and it was clear that international agreement could not be obtained for the first of these remedies, the carrying of separators.

The second remedy, the establishment of zones, is the one embodied in the draft Convention, and His Majesty’s Government consider it very desirable that every effort should be made to secure the adoption of that Convention. It is true that the shipowners in the United Kingdom, and it is believed, also in the United States and in Holland, have voluntarily adopted the principle of the Convention, and it cannot be said that the adoption of the Convention by the remaining Powers would necessarily put an end to the nuisance in any of the countries where it still exists; but it is the only international method of dealing with this nuisance which at present has any chance of success at all, and if the negotiations for the Convention are dropped or fail, there will be renewed pressure for the adoption of national measures by individual Governments. This, His Majesty’s Government consider, would be undesirable in the interests of all concerned.

The Embassy have therefore been instructed to enquire whether the United States Government, if officially approached, would be disposed to exert their good offices on behalf of the draft Convention with the other Governments interested.