The Italian Embassy to the Department of State
The attention of the Italian Embassy has been called upon the two Bills S. 7 and H. R. 4648 introduced recently in the Senate and Congress, respectively, by Messrs. King and Schneider, in the matter of alien seamen who desert their ships.
The Italian Embassy wishes to point out that the clause relative to the “full crew” in these Bills would seem to create a hardship in the event that it be put into effect in the future.
In accordance with said clause, all steamers docking at United States Ports, with a crew which enlisted in non-American ports, are not allowed to depart unless carrying, on their return trip, a number of seamen equivalent to that with which they docked at American Ports.
It is hereby stated that Italian ships, even merchant ships, are usually manned with crews the number of which is somewhat larger than that established by the regulations which are generally observed to insure the safety of human life at sea; moreover, particularly for passenger ships, the servant-personnel is very large in order to insure to passengers every possible comfort.
The provision made by the “full crew” clause therefore would cause considerable hardship to Italian shipping business for the reason that, in the case there would occur eventual desertions at the last moment, it would not always be possible to substitute the missing seamen without causing serious loss of time. It could as a matter of fact happen that, in the absence of proper elements for the substitution, the Captain of the ship would be forced to stop in the port for a much longer time than allowed, which fact would upset the regularity of the schedules and he might moreover be forced to embark individuals who are ignorant of duties required of seamen and engage them with perhaps contracts more onerous than normal ones.
Such a legislative measure, aside from the inconveniences—as above shown—which it would cause to maritime traffic with the United States, would also upset the control which at present is assigned [Page 949] by the Italian Laws, especially in reference to the crew, to Italian Consular Authorities.
As regards the other feature of the King Bill to bring additional strictness to the practice now in use, with reference to the inspection of seamen on the part of Immigration and Medical Authorities at the time of arrival of a steamer in the United States and to the fact that if a seaman is found to be not bona fide he will be detained and treated as an immigrant, it is hereby pointed out that: Italian regulations prescribe in the strictest and surest manner that the identity of each single member of the crew of national ships be firmly established. As a matter of fact, no one is allowed to embark for service on Italian national ships unless he has been entered in the register of one of the branches of the maritime service and unless he has been furnished with a regular Seaman-Service-Book (Libretto di Navigazione) upon which, apart from all necessary data relative to the personal identity of the holder and of the duties performed in the Merchant and Military Marine, his photograph is attached after a thorough examination has been conducted by the Maritime Authorities. Furthermore, the Authorities proceed to grant the permission which is necessary for embarkation on ships going abroad only when there are no reasons of a political, penal or even of a simple moral character against the seamen. This permission stamped on said “libretto di navigazione” to the effect that everything is in order, gives to this document the character of a passport, which has always been accepted in the case of seamen.
This final permission of the Authorities is granted only after very strict investigations have been conducted regarding the seamen.
From the foregoing, it may readily be observed that the crew of an Italian ship arriving from a port of the Kingdom, has been formed, in its entirety and in an absolute manner, of bona fide seamen. There may occur, naturally, an exceptional case of a clandestine who succeeds in substituting himself to a seaman, but such a possibility becomes more or less a theoretical hypothesis, when the actual mechanism employed for the issuance of the Seaman Service Book is considered.