815.00 Revolutions/504

The Acting Secretary of the Navy (Standley) to the Secretary of State

Sir: I wish to acknowledge the State Department letter of 4 April, 1936,13 which forwarded two telegrams from the American Minister at Tegucigalpa, and which requested that a naval vessel be dispatched to overtake the yacht Adventuress and pilot boat Stormalong and keep them under surveillance, advising the American Legation at Tegucigalpa regarding their movements.

Upon receipt of this letter, the Chief of Naval Operations immediately issued radio orders to the Commander Special Service Squadron—a copy of which is inclosed.13 The U. S. S. Manley transited the Panama Canal shortly after midnight 5 April, and proceeded at best speed to the Gulf of Honduras, reporting her arrival in those waters on 7 April.

In connection with the duties and responsibilities of the U. S. S. Manley while performing the duty of surveillance assigned, and with reference telegram 36 from the American Minister to Honduras, which formed one of the inclosures to your letter under acknowledgment, it is desired to call the attention of the State Department to the following points involving international law by which the commanding officer of the Manley will normally be guided:

These merchant vessels are of American registry and are flying the American flag.

There is no evidence of their having been chartered by the insurrectionists.

The vessels made a legal departure from Puerto Mexico and, in the absence of factual evidence, are making a peaceful voyage between ports of two friendly states.

They are entitled to inviolability from search and seizure while on the high seas.

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In the event of attempted search, seizure, or attack by Honduran officials, textbooks available to the Commanding Officer indicate his probable action by the following precedents:

“Of the exercise of visit and search by a Spanish cruiser upon the American steamer El Dorado in 1855, the Secretary of the Navy, in a communication to Capt. Crabbe, said:

“This act is regarded as an exercise of power which the United States have ever firmly refused to recognize, and to which they will never submit. In the absence of a declaration of war, which alone belongs to Congress, our officers in command of ships of war would have no right to pursue and retaliate for such an act. But, if present when the offense is perpetrated upon a vessel rightfully bearing the flag of our country, the officer would be regarded as derelict in his duty if he did not promptly interpose, relieve the arrested American ships, prevent the exercise of this assumed right of visitation or search, and repel the interference by force.”

On the same subject is a statement from Secretary Hay as follows:

“in no case would the insurgents be justified in treating as an enemy a neutral vessel navigating the internal waters—their only right being, as hostiles, to prevent the access of supplies to their domestic enemy. The exercise of this power is restricted to the precise end to be accomplished. No right of confiscation or destruction of foreign property in such circumstances could well be recognized, and any act of injury so committed against foreigners would necessarily be at the risk of the insurgents.”

Information from the American Minister at Tegucigalpa indicates that an attack by Honduran planes is contemplated by the Honduran forces. The trend of telegram 36 indicates that he has made no objection to this plan.

The Navy Department considers it desirable to give the Commanding Officer of the U. S. S. Manley specific instructions regarding his procedure in the event of interruption, by Honduran forces, of the voyage of these vessels on the high seas. Before doing so, this Department will be pleased to receive the views of the State Department. It is requested that this matter be given your urgent consideration.


W[illiam] H. Standley
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