851.711/379: Telegram

The Ambassador in France (Bullitt) to the Secretary of State

2751. Department’s 1304, October 25, noon. We have today received by note dated November 12 the Foreign Office’s reply to our note of October 26 regarding the seizure of mails from the S. S. Excambion at Marseille.

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The Foreign Office states that at the time the ship was met on October 22 the captain neglected to declare that these postal sacks were on board. Of the 621 sacks in the cargo 93 only were retained, of which 45 emanated from Prague, a city occupied by the enemy and 20 from Basel, a city situated in the immediate proximity of enemy territory.

The Foreign Office states also that it notes with satisfaction that our Government does not contest the right of the French Government to seize contraband destined to Germany, even if sent by post. The note continues that no doubt there is no question of contraband in the case of ships proceeding to the United States. The French Government considers nevertheless that Article I of The Hague Convention cannot be invoked without distinction in all cases. The provision of The Hague Convention guarantees in effect only the inviolability of postal correspondence “on the high seas on a neutral or enemy vessel”. That provision does not apply in the case of postal correspondence found on board a neutral ship which voluntarily enters the port of a belligerent power, as did the Excambion. It is generally admitted, and that is a right of which the American Government has availed itself on several occasions, that the state to whose jurisdiction the vessel voluntarily submits, is justified to take all measures dictated by the imperative necessities of national security.

The note concludes with the assurance that the French Government in the exercise of its rights regarding postal correspondence in transit through French territory will seek to avoid disturbing American commerce and navigation and that the French Admiralty will effect its operations with every care and desirable despatch.

The Department’s particular attention is invited to the reference made by the Foreign Office to the question of seizing contraband in the mails destined for Germany which does not relate to the present case nor was any reference to that question made in the protest directed to the Foreign Office on October 26. The reference to contraband in the case of ships generally proceeding to the United States also appears to be irrelevant.

The Department is also advised that by note of November 11 the Foreign Office states that of the mails seized on the steamship Excambion 48 sacks were released on October 27; 15 sacks on October 28; 4 sacks on October 29 and 26 sacks on October 30. All of the foregoing were routed to the United States via Havre on the dates mentioned.