862.8591/733: Telegram

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

109. Please present the following to the Foreign Office:

“The Department of State of the United States has been advised by the Commanding Officer of the Twenty-First Air Reconnaissance Squadron at Hialeah, Florida, that on December 19, 1939, the British cruiser Orion attempted to overhaul the German ship Arauca after the latter had entered American territorial waters and fired across the bow of the Arauca a warning shot which fell within the 3-mile limit.

“On September 5, 1939 the American Government issued a proclamation22 designed to preserve the neutrality of the United States and of its citizens and of persons within its territory and jurisdiction. In this proclamation it was provided, inter alia, that ‘No vessel of a belligerent shall exercise the right of search within the waters under the jurisdiction of the United States, nor shall prizes be taken by belligerent vessels within such waters.’

“The prohibition here set forth is sanctioned by well-established principles of international law and by the practices of states. One of the first principles of neutrality is that a neutral nation has every right to expect the inviolability of its territorial jurisdiction to be scrupulously respected by all belligerents alike. Indeed the duty of impartiality incumbent upon every neutral obliges it to prevent with the means at its disposal any belligerent from committing upon its territory or within its jurisdictional waters any acts of hostility.

“The Government of the United States therefore, assumes that the British Government will view the action of the British cruiser Orion as seriously as does the United States and will welcome confirmation of this assumption.

[Page 689]

“In addition to the situation presented regarding the territorial waters of the United States my Government also desires to direct the attention of the British Government to the Declaration of Panama, a copy of which was communicated to the British Government on behalf of the twenty-one American Republics by the President of the Republic of Panama on October 4, 1939, stating that ‘the American Republics, so long as they maintain their neutrality, are as of inherent right entitled to have those waters adjacent to the American Continent, which they regard as of primary concern and direct utility in their relations, free from the commission of any hostile act by any non-American belligerent nation, whether such hostile act be attempted or made from land, sea or air.’”

  1. Department of State Bulletin, September 9, 1939, p. 203.