The French Ambassador (Claudel) to the Secretary of State


The Ambassador of France has the honor to invite the kind attention of His Excellency the Secretary of State to two bills which have been introduced in the Senate under the numbers 3501 and 3502 and of the House of Representatives under the numbers 8874 and 8875, the adoption of which would be susceptible of causing a serious [Page 923]prejudice to French merchant marine interests and would mark a profound modification in maritime international law.

The bill numbered S3501–HR8874 has for its purpose the amending of the “Shipping Act” of 1916 by establishing a difference of treatment between American and foreign ships. It, in effect, gives to the term “fighting ship” of the 1916 law the following supplementary definition: … “a foreign vessel used or proposed to be used in a particular trade so as to produce unwarranted and excessive competition in such trade with vessels documented under the laws of the United States which engage in such commerce.”

It does not seem that it would be giving these provisions of the bill an exaggerated interpretation in thinking of them as making the act of competition by foreign ships a criminal offence, taking into consideration the difficulty of giving the terms “unjustifiable and excessive” a judicial definition. The operation of this amendment would therefore exclude the foreign vessels from the ports of the United States each time that competition with the American vessels seemed undesirable to the Shipping Board, since by the provisions of the bill, the decision of the Board would be final and without an opportunity for an appeal. Only the American agency, interested as it is in maritime commerce, would have the absolute power of defining a “fighting ship”. Its decision would have the force of law and from such a decision the foreign shipping companies would have no appeal open to them.

It appears that the bill in question does not take into consideration the principle of international law under which foreign vessels have free access to the ports of all countries for the carrying on of commerce on the same basis as the national vessels, a principle incorporated into many treaties actually in force between the United States and a certain number of foreign countries.

It is not unreasonable to assume, for instance, that the General Trans-Atlantic Company might see the new ship that it is at this moment building denied access to the harbor of New York, if it is called a “fighting ship” by the Shipping Board. Although the intentions of the American Government certainly must not be to create a situation of this sort, the bill nevertheless would give the agency this power.

The bill numbered S3502–HR8875 has as its object the amending of the law of June 19, 1886 by including in the definition of coastwise shipping the practice of continuous voyage terminating at the point of departure or at any other port of the United States with or without stopping at a foreign port.

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It is the introduction of the words “point of departure” in the bill that makes it an innovation, without these words the amendment would be considered a tautology. These words clearly indicate that the practice that the bill seeks to prohibit is not the ordinary transportation of passengers from one American port to another, already reserved for American craft by the provisions of the original act of 1886 regulating coastwise navigation, but the transportation of tourists, because it is not conceivable of considering as transportation the bringing back of passengers to the point of their departure. Now the carrying of passengers on the high seas, with stops in foreign ports, is essentially an act of international commerce.

Thus the General Trans-Atlantic Company, which has for some time been carrying tourists to the Bermudas, the Bahamas, the West Indies, Martinique and Guadeloupe, etc., having New York as a point of departure and of arrival, would in the event of the adoption of this proposed law find it impossible to continue this practice.

Consequently, all the reservations which might be made in the event of the adoption of bill S3501–HR8874 would also apply to bill S3502–HR8875.

In calling these divers points to the attention of His Excellency the Secretary of State, the Ambassador of France would be happy if the Secretary would have the kindness to call to the attention of the competent committees of the two Chambers the point of view of the French Government.

Mr. Paul Claudel is glad to take this opportunity to again express to the Honorable Henry L. Stimson the assurances of his high esteem.