811.114 Reidun/154

The Minister in Norway (Biddle) to the Secretary of State

No. 187

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Department’s instruction No. 48 of May 7, 1936, with enclosures, setting forth the bases for seizure of the Norwegian steamship Reidun and the arrest of four of its officers.

[Page 450]

Considering that the data contained in the instruction were for the Legation’s information only, and that they had already been communicated to the Minister of Norway at Washington, I made no mention of them in recent talks with officials of the Foreign Office.

Yesterday, however, in the course of a social reunion, Mr. Skylstad, Acting Chief of the Section of Political Affairs of the Foreign Ministry, introduced the subject during conversations with Mr. Patterson74 and, subsequently, with me. He stated that he had recently been shown cables by the local attorneys of the owners of the Reidun, which indicated that, insofar as the United States Government’s libel against the ship was concerned, the American authorities were disposed either to release the vessel upon abandonment by the interested Norwegians of their counterclaim, or to exact merely a relatively small fine in place of confiscation. The attorneys for the parties now seemed to be engaged in a contest to determine whether the sum to be exacted would be five thousand dollars or one thousand dollars. Mr. Skylstad seemed to take no particular exception to this pending pecuniary settlement, and indeed was evidently relieved over the thought that perhaps the vexatious question of the Reidun was about to be solved, even though the result of the trial of the four officers remained to be ascertained. Having had no information concerning this alleged development in the case, I was unable to confirm the accuracy of Mr. Skylstad’s information.

I could have hoped, however, that, once publicity had been given to the seizure of the Reidun and the matter adjudicated in court, the Government might have allowed the controversy to lapse in view of the irritation of the Norwegian authorities over what they consider a high-handed and arbitrary American official procedure, and the probability that the action already taken by the United States authorities will effectively discourage further participation by Norwegian vessels in smuggling operations into the United States.

Indeed, Mr. Skylstad admitted as much, adding that he had just induced the owners of the Trajan (a vessel concerning whose implication in smuggling activities the Legation, by instruction of the Department, has informed the Foreign Office) to give up an opportunity to do perfectly legitimate business involving entrance into United States ports. Moreover, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will exert such influence as it possesses in preventing Norwegian vessels which have in the past incurred the suspicion of having formed a link on a chain of smuggling operations from engaging in even manifestly lawful commerce between foreign and American ports.

Thus, it seems clear that the action of the American authorities against the Reidun has already been highly effective and has proved more persuasive than the Norwegian law of June 25, 1926 in arousing [Page 451] local officials to the importance of halting use of Norwegian ships in smuggling activities inimical to the interests of a foreign country.

Respectfully yours,

A. J. Drexel Biddle, Jr.
  1. Jefferson Patterson, First Secretary of Legation.