The Consul at Gibraltar ( Chapman ) to the Secretary of State

No. 149

Sir: I have the honor to submit the information that follows in regard to the detention of American vessels by the British Contraband Control Authorities with the suggestion that the Department consider addressing to the British Government a complaint with a view to lessening the delays now imposed upon American ships.

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In the weekly telegraphic report of Saturday, December 9, 1939,88 concerning the detention here of American ships by the British Contraband Control, I said it was felt the Department should protest strongly to London against delaying American passenger vessels. The reason for need to protest to London is not because of any fault of which I am aware on the part of the Gibraltar Contraband Control authorities, but because the delay is in London. The Gibraltar authorities are bound under London instructions to detain at Gibraltar all ships having on board cargo carried in the British Contraband List. They must then report the detention to the Ministry of Economic Warfare at London and await the Ministry’s instructions as to what disposition shall be made of the case. Then days and even weeks pass without a word from London, Meanwhile our ships are sitting out in Gibraltar Bay waiting and waiting at heavy expense and being put off their sailing schedules. This position is bad for all of our ships which are brought into this Port, of course, but especially bad for our passenger vessels. American and other passengers on board have obligations to meet, in which time is an important element. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of bags of United States mail are being delayed, to say nothing of the dragging of many mail bags off the ships and bringing them on shore to be censored and further delayed.

I have on numerous occasions requested the Colonial Secretary and others in high authority to do all they can to expedite release of this ship or that. The answer is always the same, that only instructions from London authorizing release will permit them to act.

It is clear, therefore, that it is a waste of time for me to try to get action, except in so far as the Colonial authorities may use my complaints as a basis of trying to get quicker decisions from London,—and if they do make such use of them. They are so encumbered with overwork that one cannot expect them to pass along to London every complaint I make. It should be said here, parenthetically, that my dealings with the Colonial Secretary and others are practically all informal in friendly conversations which they appreciate, and frankly say they much prefer over the ranting notes of protest received from the Italian Consul General.

My impression is that they are becoming weary of much unsuccessful effort to get the Ministry of Economic Warfare to speed up to a point of reason the despatch of Gibraltar detention cases, and that it is time for a more direct appeal for better consideration of American ships.

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It must be admitted, of course, that the ships of other neutral countries are no better treated than our own and it can not be assumed that any discrimination against American shipping exists, unless it lies in the fact that no one of the two big Italian liners has ever been held here as long as some of our Export Lines passenger vessels are being delayed on their east-bound voyages. The difference here noted does raise a question to which we are able to point in case of necessity.

The detention of our passenger vessels appears to be comparable with that imposed upon the Italian and other neutral passenger ships of the ordinary categories.

I am told by the Master of the American Export Liner Exochorda, which has been in this port since December 4 with over 60 passengers on board, that a careful effort was made to avoid taking from the United States any cargo that might be intended for Germany,—to save detention of the ship by the British Contraband Control, but it appears that the authorities at Gibraltar are powerless to take any such precaution into account.

It is time, in consideration of all the circumstances from the beginning of this war, that the London Ministry of Economic Warfare should take into account and lend more faith and credit to such precautions taken by American shipping companies which are endeavoring, on the face of the position at least, to oblige the British Ministry of Economic Warfare, in defence of their own company interests.

Respectfully yours,

William E. Chapman
  1. Telegram No. 31; not printed.