811.114 Reidun/119

The Secretary of State to the Norwegian Minister (Morgenstierne)

Sir: I have the honor to refer to your two notes of March 18, 1936,62 and my reply of March 26, 1936,61 relative to the detention and subsequent seizure of the Norwegian steamer Reidun and the arrest of certain officers of the vessel, and to inform you of the receipt of a further communication from the appropriate authorities of this Government stating that the seizure of the Reidun and the arrest of the four officers were based on the following facts and circumstances:

The Reidun left Antwerp October 23, 1935, with a cargo of approximately 20,000 cases of alcohol in addition to a quantity of whiskey and other cargo. According to available evidence, Per Naevestad, the late master of the Reidum, received instructions prior to the vessel’s departure from Antwerp that transshipment of the alcohol cargo should be made on the high seas near St. Pierre-Miquelon, and that certain precautions should be taken to avoid incurring fines in connection with such discharge which might accrue at ports of subsequent arrival. It is therefore impossible to avoid the belief that the late master and other responsible officers of the Reidun, prior to their departure from Antwerp, were actually and fully aware that the contemplated voyage was an employment of the vessel in the smuggling traffic.

Following its departure from Antwerp, the Reidun proceeded to a position off the coast of North America where, between November 10 and 13, 1936, it discharged a large part of its alcohol cargo under the observation of vessels of the United States Coast Guard into certain British liquor vessels which have long been engaged in smuggling liquor and alcohol into the United States in violation of the revenue laws of this country.

[Page 445]

After apparently hovering in the vicinity for several days longer, the Reidun finally arrived at St. Pierre-Miquelon on November 20, 1935, and was fined 500 francs for failure to produce a bill of lading covering approximately 4,509 cases of alcohol which were still on board. The presence of this alcohol was noted by the Customs authorities at St. Pierre-Miquelon on the vessel’s clearance papers outward for Montreal, Canada.

The Reidun left the port of St. Pierre on November 22, 1935, and returned there on November 26, 1935, apparently without having proceeded to Montreal. During the period between November 22 and 26, 1935, the Reidun presumably discharged a further quantity of about 2,912 cases of alcohol into smuggling vessels, as it had on board, on the occasion of its second arrival, approximately 1,597 cases of alcohol. It is understood that the Reidun was again fined 500 francs by the authorities at St. Pierre-Miquelon for failure to produce a bill of lading covering this alcohol.

On November 27, 1935, the Reidun again left St. Pierre and proceeded to St. John’s, Newfoundland, and thence to Montreal, Canada, where it arrived on December 5, 1935.

From the enclosures transmitted with my note of January 24, 1936,63 you will observe that the late master of the Reidun made a statement under oath at Montreal in the course of which he declared that two or three of the masters of the contact vessels into which the alcohol was transferred informed him that their cargoes were destined to Florida.

The appropriate authorities of this Government state that there is convincing evidence that a substantial part of the Reidun’s alcohol cargo has been landed in the United States in pursuance of the plan and conspiracy of which the unloading of the alcohol from the Reidun was a part. They further state that the facts available definitely show that the late master and other responsible officers of the Reidun were fully cognizant of the fact that the vessel was being intentionally utilized as an instrument in the execution of a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States of its lawful revenue.

The alcohol cargo unloaded by the Reidun represents a loss to the revenue of the United States which may amount approximately to $1,572,778.

Furthermore, the master also stated, in the affidavit mentioned above, that the owners of the Reidun were aware that the vessel was carrying a cargo of alcohol. It is, therefore, difficult to believe that they were not also aware of the questionable nature of the enterprise.

When the Reidun subsequently voluntarily entered a port of the United States on March 10, 1936, the vessel itself and its officers [Page 446] thereby became subject to the jurisdiction of the courts of this country. In the opinion of this Government the treaty signed May 24, 1924, between the United States and Norway, entitled “Prevention of Smuggling of Intoxicating Liquors”, has no direct application to the present case.

With respect to the statements contained in your second note of March 18, 1936, mentioned above, that the Norwegian Consul General at New York was not informed of the arrest of the four officers of the Reidun until the following morning, and that the arrested men had not previously been given an opportunity to communicate with their Consul General or with a lawyer, I am informed that the men were arrested and taken to the Poplar Street Police Station in Brooklyn, New York, about 7 p.m. on March 17, 1936, that the United States Marshal instructed the authorities to allow the prisoners to communicate with anyone whom they might wish to consult, and that at about 10 a.m. of the following day, March 18, the Deputy United States Marshal himself telephoned to the Norwegian Consulate General in New York. I am further informed that the arrested men were treated with consideration, were not held incommunicado, and were in fact accorded more privileges than our own nationals, arrested in this country on similar charges, receive.

Norwegian vessels participated actively in the smuggling of liquor into the United States in the early part of the period during which the prohibition laws were in effect in the United States and on November 25, 1924, a note65 giving a list of ten such vessels was sent to your Legation by Mr. Hughes, then Secretary of State. This Government greatly appreciated, therefore, the enactment by the Norwegian Government of the law of June 25, 1926,66 making it an offense for Norwegian vessels to be used in the smuggling of contraband into foreign countries. As a result of this law, the use of Norwegian vessels in connection with this traffic practically ceased. Shortly thereafter the islands of St. Pierre-et-Miquelon became an important base from which liquor and alcohol were smuggled into the United States by means of small hovering craft.

However, on April 9, 1935, the French Government issued a decree, effective May 15, 1935, which made it virtually impossible for those engaged in the smuggling traffic to continue their operations from St. Pierre-Miquelon.67 They were therefore forced to find other means of carrying on their nefarious business and they adopted the scheme of having alcohol cargoes brought over from Europe and discharged [Page 447] on the high seas directly into smuggling vessels. Out of five steamships employed for this purpose within a period of seven months after the decree went into effect, four were Norwegian, as follows:

  • Anders, cleared Antwerp May 11, 1935. Discharged a cargo of approximately 5,085 cases of alcohol in the vicinity of St. Pierre-Miquelon on May 30–31, 1935, into smuggling vessels.
  • Trajan, cleared Antwerp July 25, 1935. Discharged a cargo of approximately 14,838 cases of alcohol in the vicinity of St. Pierre-Miquelon on August 18–22, 1935, into smuggling vessels.
  • Reidun, cleared Antwerp Octooer 23, 1935. Discharged a cargo of approximately 20,000 cases of alcohol off Newfoundland November 10–13, 1935, into smuggling vessels.
  • Bodo, cleared Antwerp December 1, 1935 Master refused to discharge a cargo of approximately 14,000 cases of alcohol on the high seas but carried it to its declared destination.

You will recall that I wrote you on November 4, 1935,68 regarding the activities of the steamships Anders, Trajan and Reidun and that on January 24, 1936, I sent you photographs showing certain well known smuggling vessels alongside the Reidun, together with affidavits and other documents indicating the participation of the Reidun in the alcohol-smuggling traffic. Notes were also addressed to the Norwegian Government by the American Minister at Oslo regarding these vessels, beginning with a communication dated July 18, 1935,69 with a request that their activities be investigated as they appeared to involve a violation of Sections 1 and 2 of the above-mentioned law of June 25, 1926, reading in translation as follows:

“Section 1.

“The shipowner or agent who uses a Norwegian ship in smuggling into a foreign country shall be punished by a fine.

“A shipowner or agent who rents a Norwegian ship or allows it to convey freight when he knows or should know that the charterer or shipper intends to use it for smuggling into a foreign country, shall be punished in the same way.

“Section 2.

“Under this law it will be deemed smuggling when a ship’s cargo is discharged at sea outside the customs limits of another country under such circumstances that there is overwhelming evidence that the cargo was to be smuggled in.”

I invite your particular attention to Section 2 of this law, which seemed to the American Government to apply to the activities of the three Norwegian vessels mentioned above. However, the American [Page 448] Minister at Oslo was informed in a note dated March 19, 1936,70 that the appropriate Norwegian authorities had reached the conclusion, after an investigation, that those responsible for the operation of these vessels had not violated this law. Had the Norwegian Government found it possible to take prompt action in the case of the Anders, the first of the steamers to engage recently in this traffic, it is probable that the other vessels would not have undertaken similar voyages.

As the cases involving the Reidun and the four officers of the vessel are now pending in the courts of the United States, I am confident that you will understand that there is no action which the executive authorities of this Government can take in this matter.

Accept [etc.]

For the Secretary of State:
R. Walton Moore
  1. Second note not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Not printed.
  5. For translation of text, see despatch No. 300, July 5, 1935, from the Minister in Norway, Foreign Relations, 1935, vol. i, p. 422.
  6. See telegram No. 344, April 17, 1935, noon, from the Ambassador in France, ibid., p. 414.
  7. Note not printed.
  8. See telegram No. 25, November 13, 1935, 2 p.m., from the Minister in Norway, Foreign Relations, 1935, vol. i, p. 437.
  9. Copy transmitted to the Department by the Minister in his despatch No. 144, March 21; not printed.