Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State (Long)
I told the Ambassador that I did not know the details of his men being detained in custody, but that I doubted very much if any of them were in unhealthy places or in pitiable conditions. I said that some of them happened to be maintained in prisons, but it was not because they were prisoners. It was because we do not have immigration stations and internment camps in convenient localities. I said that the thing would be taken care of very shortly and in proper condition.
In connection with the third paragraph containing his protest, I told the Ambassador that the Italian authorities themselves had brought on the difficulty and that under the circumstances we were confronted with a lot of vessels which had been deprived of their character as vessels, because they were incapable of propulsion and were simply obstacles to navigation and that they were no longer vessels, but like canal boats that had to be towed, and that under the circumstances it was a violation of American law and the American Government was forced to act.[Page 457]
I told him that the ships still remained Italian ships; that we had not taken title to the vessels and only had them under protective control; and that I doubted if the Italian flag had been replaced on the ships.
In response to his complaint that the Italian Consuls had been prevented from communicating with the captains and crews, I told him that it was a Sunday experience and probably the consulates were closed and the consuls off for a week-end. I said it had been quite a surprise to all of us on Sunday because, on account of it being Sunday, arrangements could not be made as quickly as possible, but that there is no intention on the part of the American Government to prevent the men from being approached by the Italian Consuls and that I would take this matter up. He said he had not been instructed by his Government to make a protest but that he expected orders would arrive. I told him that I would see that he will get a memorandum in response to the one attached.