841.857 Athenia/11: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Kennedy) to the Secretary of State

1419. The following communiqué re Athenia was issued by Admiralty before news just telegraphed regarding those saved:

Among the passengers on board the Athenia which was sunk by a German submarine early this morning were 65 United States citizens from Belfast, 101 from Liverpool and 145 from Glasgow. The destroyers which were sent off at full speed to pick up survivors are proceeding to the scene.

It will be recollected that in 1935 [1936] Germany as one of the first powers to do so agreed to abide by part IV of the London Naval Treaty 193075 in perpetuity. These articles state—

The following are accepted as established rules of International Law:

In them [their action] with regard to merchant ships, submarines must conform to the rules of International Law to which surf ace vessels are subject.
In particular, except in the case of persistent refusal to stop on being duly summoned, or of active resistance to visit or search, a warship, whether surface vessel or submarine, may not sink or render incapable of navigation a merchant ship [vessel] without having first placed passengers, crew and ship’s papers in a place of safety. For this purpose the ship’s boats are not regarded as a place of safety unless the safety of the passengers and crew is assured, in the existing sea and weather conditions, by the proximity of land, or the presence of another vessel which is in a position to take them on board.

It may be pointed out that by this deliberate disregard of the voluntary declaration made by Germany at the time of her adhesion to the London Naval Treaty of 1930 to the effect that she renounced of her own free will the right to make use of unrestricted submarine warfare in any future campaign and that this renunciation was outside and in addition to any undertakings which she might make in the London Naval Treaty or any other treaty even if such were at any time to be denounced.

  1. Foreign Relations, 1930, vol. i, pp. 107, 123. For accession of Germany to the treaty on November 23, 1936, see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. clxxiii, p. 355.