740.00111 A.R./415: Telegram
The Secretary of State to the Under Secretary of State ( Welles ) on Board the S. S. “Santa Elena”
45. Department’s 32, September 29, 8 p.m.,10 and your 36, October 3, 9 a.m.11 In conversation yesterday12 with Assistant Secretary Berle the French Ambassador indicated that his Government took the same position as the British Government on the purchase and transfer of German ships now in the harbors of the other American republics. The Ambassador was then informed, as the British Ambassador had already been on October 2, that in order to make these ships available probably for use in trans-Atlantic trade we were continuing to explore the matter with particular reference to the possible needs of the neutral nations of this hemisphere. The possibility that payments for transferred ships might be held in escrow until the end of the war was mentioned to the Ambassador, as was also the opinion that any of the transfers which were already desired by several of the other American republics should be entirely bona fide and the ships not operated by German crews or agencies.
The French Ambassador indicated, as had the British Ambassador on September 29, that the objection to transfer of title of the ships was not chiefly their purchase by American neutrals but fear lest the payments would become credits usable abroad by the German Government.
A telegram of October 3, 5 p.m., from the Embassy in Mexico reports that the French Chargé expects today to deliver to the Mexican Government the information that his Government associates itself with the British Government in being “unalterably opposed” to any kind of transfer and would continue to consider any transferred German ships as belligerent vessels.
Shipping interests in the United States continue to be disturbed at the possibility that use might be made of transferred German ships and are inquiring as to any contemplated movements in this direction. Your radio address of yesterday13 appears to have given such interests [Page 69] reason to believe that transfers are to some extent likely in the near future.
In the circumstances we would greatly appreciate having your comment and any further information concerning the status of the possibility of such transfers being made in the near future. We would also appreciate having fuller information as to the provision mentioned in your radio address yesterday concerning a possible concentration of the refugee German merchant vessels under guard in some single American port.