The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Germany (Dodd)1

No. 791

Sir: The Communications and Transit organization of the League of Nations has had under consideration since 1934 the preparation of a draft convention designed to bring about through international cooperation the correction of the problem of the pollution of the sea by oil. In the fall of 1934 and in the fall of 1935 a committee of experts, including American experts, met in Geneva and at the latter meeting a draft convention was drawn.2 This draft convention was then submitted by the League of Nations to various maritime countries of the world, asking for comments and whether those countries were prepared in principle to agree with the draft in question. All of the governments to which this questionnaire was presented, with the exception of Italy and Germany, have made replies thereto. It was through the initiative of the British Government that this pollution question was taken up by the League of Nations.

On October 10, 1936, the Council of the League of Nations decided to convene at a date yet to be fixed a conference for the conclusion of a convention and final act of the pollution of the sea by oil. No date has as yet been fixed and the reason for the delay in calling the conference is stated to be that the German and Italian Governments have not as yet made observations on the draft convention or expressed any willingness to participate in the conference. An Italian expert did, however, participate in the work of the committee of experts. While the Department does not know the reasons underlying the inaction on the part of the German and Italian Governments, it may be assumed that this inaction is due, in part at least, to their present policy in respect of any cooperation on the part of those governments with League of Nations activities.

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The Department recently received a note from the British Embassy in Washington,3 stating that His Majesty’s Government is now contemplating an approach to the German and Italian Governments with a view to urging them to be represented at a conference if one is summoned. The British Ambassador in Washington was instructed to inquire whether the Government of the United States would be prepared to support a step of this kind and to approach the German and Italian Governments accordingly. Under date of April 2 the British Ambassador was informed4 that the Department would be prepared to approach the Italian and German Governments, expressing to them the hope that they may find it possible to join any such an international arrangement.

The pollution of navigable waters by oil is a subject of considerable interest to the American Government. In 1922 Congress passed a Joint Resolution5 authorizing the Secretary of State to convene an international conference the purpose of which would be to draw a convention designed to correct this problem. In 1926 a preliminary conference of experts was called in Washington, and as a result of the labors of that conference the draft convention was completed.6 This draft convention was then submitted to the governments whose experts participated in the conference, and all those governments, with the exception of Germany, Italy and Japan, expressed agreement in principle with the draft convention. Since it did not seem possible at that time to obtain the agreement of these last three named countries, further action on the part of this Government was held in abeyance. There continues in the United States, however, a decided interest on the part of numerous groups to find a solution for this difficulty, and the Department would be glad to see the conclusion of a satisfactory international arrangement in this respect.

You are requested to take an opportune occasion to discuss this matter orally and informally with the appropriate German authorities, and to express to them this Government’s hope that the German Government may find it possible to join in such an international undertaking.

I feel that the information which is presented above will give you sufficient basis for opening such a discussion. You will of course readily appreciate that the approach should rest upon our interest in the problem and that we do not wish to inject ourselves into any question involved between the German Government and the League of Nations.

Very truly yours,

Cordell Hull
  1. The same, mutatis mutandis, as Department’s No. 96, May 5, to the Chargé in Italy.
  2. See League of Nations document C.449.M.235.1935.VIII.
  3. Note No. 101, March 20, from the British Ambassador, not printed.
  4. Note to the British Ambassador not printed.
  5. Approved July 1, 1922; 42 Stat. 821.
  6. Preliminary Conference on Oil Pollution of Navigable Waters, June 8–16, 1926; see Foreign Relations, 1926, vol. i, pp. 238 ff.