The Secretary of State to All American Diplomatic and Consular Officers

Diplomatic Serial No. 3047

Sirs: For the purpose of authorizing emergency carriage of an increased number of passengers in American vessels from troubled [Page 586] foreign areas, letters have been exchanged between the Department of State and the Department of Commerce under dates of February 21, 1939 and March 10, 1939,4 respectively, and consultations have taken place between officers of the two Departments. The letter of March 10, 1939 from the Department of Commerce reads in part as follows:

“In event of an emergency in any foreign country which necessitates the rapid evacuation of American citizens, the Secretary of State is authorized, upon his finding that such an emergency exists, to instruct United States consular officers that they may issue to American passenger and cargo vessels consular certificates amending the certificates of inspection of said vessels permitting the carriage or an increased number of persons by any such vessel on a specific voyage after a survey by the master and chief engineer of the vessel as to the vessel’s ability to carry the proposed number of persons, and provided that the vessel is equipped with sufficient buoyant equipment, provisions, and medical supplies to care for all persons on board. This procedure is authorized on condition that in each case when in an emergency such consular certificate is issued, the circumstances shall be reported immediately to the Secretary of Commerce who reserves the right to make appropriate regulations in a particular case if deemed necessary for safety.”

Form No. 338, Emergency Consular Certificate, to be used in amending the certificates of inspection (Title 46, U. S. C. A. sec. 451) of American vessels to permit the carriage of an increased number of persons has been established and a sample copy is enclosed.5 Additional copies will be supplied on requisition. In case of emergency they may be prepared on the typewriter. You are cautioned, however, not to issue any such Emergency Consular Certificates except under express instructions from the Department in each instance, which instructions may be requested by telegraph, naming the vessel and her owners. When the Secretary of State has determined that such an emergency exists and has authorized the issuance of the Emergency Consular Certificate to any such vessel for a specific voyage, the officer to whom the instruction is sent must obtain the following before issuing the Emergency Consular Certificate: (1) a survey by the master and chief engineer of the vessel to determine the number of persons that may be carried with prudence and safety and (2) a sworn statement by the master and by the chief engineer, as provided in the Emergency Consular Certificate, that the lifesaving equipment on board is sufficient, adequate, and readily available in case of emergency to care for all of the proposed number of persons to be carried, and that the ship’s provisions and medical supplies are sufficient to care for all persons to be carried on the particular voyage. Appropriate additional safety requirements may be requested by the Department in particular cases when deemed to be necessary.

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It should be noted that the excerpt from the Commerce Department’s letter dated March 10, 1939, quoted above, limits the number of additional persons which may be carried to the amount of buoyant equipment the vessel may have on board or may procure for the specific voyage. Buoyant equipment shall be considered to be lifeboats, life rafts, life floats and buoyant apparatus (small rafts). Buoyant equipment does not include life buoys or life preservers. No additional ring buoys or life buoys would be necessary but it is possible that additional life preservers would be required. All vessels to which the Emergency Consular Certificate is issued should have a life preserver for each and every person on board in addition to the buoyant equipment.

For your guidance two examples are set out below of the potential carrying capacities of American vessels of different types which may be employed in an emergency:

An American ocean passenger vessel is equipped with a sufficient number of lifeboats to accommodate at one time all of the persons, including passengers and crew, that are permitted to be carried by the vessel’s certificate of inspection. In addition, small life rafts called buoyant apparatus are provided to accommodate at least 25% of the persons (passengers and crew) set forth in the ship’s certificate of inspection. There is also provided a life preserver for each person on board, plus an additional 10% of that number which are of a type suitable for children. Therefore, a passenger vessel permitted to carry, say, 750 passengers and 250 persons in the crew, or a total of 1,000 persons, has accommodations in lifeboats for 1,000 persons, and on buoyant apparatus for 250 persons, so that if the vessel had booked to capacity and had a full complement of crew, no additional persons would be permitted on the basis of lifeboats, but 250 additional persons may be carried due to the fact that such a vessel would be equipped with accommodations in buoyant apparatus for that number. Should it be desired to evacuate more than 250 persons in this case, it would be necessary to provide additional lifeboats, life rafts or buoyant apparatus. Should this same vessel be equipped with only 1,000 life Preservers, and 250 additional persons were to be embarked, it would be necessary to procure 250 additional life preservers.
Should an American cargo vessel be pressed into service it, too, would be limited to the amount of lifeboats and buoyant apparatus (small rafts) that it would have on board during its voyage. American cargo vessels have lifeboats on board sufficient in number to accommodate double the number of persons set forth in their certificates of inspection. A cargo vessel with a crew of 48 and 2 persons in addition to the crew, or a total of 50 permitted by its certificate of inspection, has accommodations in lifeboats for 100 persons, and if it is only desired to evacuate not to exceed 50, the vessel would have ample buoyant equipment but in all probability would have to procure an additional 50 life preservers.

The United States is a party to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, signed at London on May 31, 1929.6 Chapter [Page 588] II relating to the construction of vessels, and Chapter III relating to the lifesaving appliances on vessels, apply only to passenger ships. Article 2 of the Convention contains the following provision:

“3(d) A ship is a passenger ship if it carries more than 12 passengers.”

Under its provisions, unless there is a recognized exception, a vessel about to depart from a port with more than twelve passengers on board would be considered a passenger vessel and therefore subject to the provisions of the Convention applicable to passenger vessels. If, however, in an extraordinary emergency it seemed to be necessary to authorize certain cargo vessels to carry more than twelve passengers, the Department might base such an authorization on the second paragraph of Article 3 of the Convention (Underlining7 and insert between brackets added):

“Persons who are on board a ship by reason of force majeure or in consequence of the obligation laid upon the master [presumably by a superior authority such as a government] to carry shipwrecked or other persons shall not be taken into account for the purpose of ascertaining the application to a ship of any provisions of the present Convention.”

Emergency Consular Certificates should be made out in quadruplicate, one copy to be retained in the Consulate, one copy to be given to the master of the vessel, and two copies to be forwarded to the Department, one of which is for the Secretary of Commerce.

Very truly yours,

For the Secretary of State:
G. S. Messersmith
  1. Neither printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Department of State Treaty Series No. 910, or 50 Stat. 1121. For correspondence, see Foreign Relations, 1929, vol. i, pp. 368 ff.
  4. Printed in italics.