740.0011 European War 1939/1172a: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Minister in Uruguay (Wilson)

84. Your telephone call today. Article 12 of Hague Convention No. 13 of 190710 provides that in the absence of special provisions to the contrary in the legislation of a neutral power “belligerent warships are not permitted to remain in the ports, roadsteads, or territorial waters of the said Power for more than 24 hours, except in the cases covered by the present Convention.” The exceptions referred to insofar as they are here material are contained in articles 14 and 17.

Article 14 provides that the stay may be prolonged beyond the permissible time only “on account of damage or stress of weather” and that the vessel must depart as soon as the cause of the delay is at an end.

Article 17 provides that belligerent warships may make such repairs only “as are absolutely necessary to render them seaworthy, and may not add in any manner whatsoever to their fighting force”, also [Page 94]that the local authorities of the neutral power “shall decide what repairs are necessary, and these must be carried out with the least possible delay.”

Provisions analogous to those contained in article 17 are embodied in article 9 of the Habana Convention of 1928 regarding maritime neutrality.11 The latter article also states that “damages which are found to have been produced by the enemy’s fire shall in no case be repaired.” An identical statement is contained in the President’s Proclamation of Neutrality of September 5, 1939.12 This rule has been applied by a number of neutral powers including the United States and Germany. The Scandinavian countries adopted rules in 193813 prohibiting the repair of damage inflicted by action of the enemy. As regards the United States see Moore’s Digest, Volume VII, page 991 and following.

Article 34 of the draft convention prepared by the Research in International Law under the auspices of the Harvard Law School on the subject of the rights and duties of neutral states in naval and aerial war stipulates that “a condition of distress which is the result of enemy action may not be remedied and if the vessel is unable to leave it shall be interned”. See volume 33, American Journal of International Law, July 1939, Supplement, page 462.

The General Declaration of Neutrality approved at Panama October 3, 1939, provides in paragraph 3 (d)14 that warships shall not be allowed to remain in port or territorial waters more than 24 hours. While an exception is permitted for vessels arriving in distress this Government does not understand that distress resulting from combat operations would entitle the vessel to prolong its stay beyond 24 hours without internment.

You are privileged to use the foregoing information in any conversations you may have with the Uruguayan authorities, merely as an expression of the views of your government with regard to its own policy.

  1. Foreign Relations, 1907, pt. 2, p. 1239.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1928, vol. i, p. 604.
  3. Department of State Bulletin, September 9, 1939, p. 203.
  4. League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. clxxxviii, p. 293.
  5. See Report of the Delegate of the United States of America to the Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the American Republics Held at Panamá, September 23–October 8, 1939, p. 55.