893.801 Search/40

The Secretary of State to the Minister in China (Johnson)

No. 381

Sir: The Department has received the Legation’s despatch No. 607 of November 20, 1930, enclosing the Chinese text and English translation of “Instructions for the Guidance of Officers in Charge of Revenue Launches or Cruisers when Stopping and Searching Vessels, Foreign and Chinese, in Chinese Waters”,7 and requesting the Department’s instructions and views with regard thereto.

The Legation is authorized to inform the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the sense that the American Government is in sympathy with the efforts being made by the Chinese Government to curtail smuggling and similar malpractices, and with any procedure designed to regularize and define methods of prevention. At the same time, there should be recorded full reservation of the rights possessed under existing treaties by American commercial vessels and merchandise in Chinese ports or coastal waters or rivers.

The Department also desires that the Legation convey to the appropriate Chinese authorities, in such manner as the Legation may deem expedient, comments, based upon the Customs practice of the United States, as follows:

It is highly desirable that a vessel to be boarded be made fully aware, not only that she has been signaled to stop but that she has been signaled to stop by a vessel authorized by law to board and search vessels. As of interest in this connection, it may be stated that Coast Guard vessels of the United States carry a distinctive ensign and pennant which readily identifies them. The vessels are armed and the members of the crew are in uniform so that by day the Coast Guard vessels can be distinguished from all other craft. At night, it is the practice of a United States Coast Guard vessel to play her searchlight on the distinctive Coast Guard ensign so that the vessel to be boarded may know the character of the boarding vessel. It is suggested that, under conditions prevailing on the China coast, it appears highly desirable that there be incorporated in the rules promulgated for the use of the Chinese Maritime Customs revenue launches and cruisers some procedure whereby vessels to be boarded could readily ascertain the identity of the boarding vessel.
It is noted that the Chinese boarding parties are armed. As a general rule, boarding parties of the United States Coast Guard Service are unarmed, though, under certain circumstances, where the known character of the crew of the vessel to be boarded leads to [Page 936] the belief that resistance may be encountered, arms are carried by the boarding party.
The Chinese instructions provide that at night the searchlight shall be turned frequently on the vessel to be boarded. The rays of a searchlight thrown into the pilot house of a vessel under way, particularly in restricted waters, may cause the vessel to become unmanageable through the blinding of the navigating officer. While the cutters of the Coast Guard Service of the United States use the searchlight as a means of identifying vessels at night, great care is employed to avoid throwing the searchlight into the pilot house of a vessel to be boarded.

Very truly yours,

For the Secretary of State:
W. R. Castle, Jr.
  1. Not printed; see note of Chinese Minister for Foreign Affairs, dated October 31, 1930, Foreign Relations, 1930, vol. ii, p. 209.