The Secretary of State to the Italian Ambassador (Colonna)

The Secretary of State presents his compliments to His Excellency the Royal Italian Ambassador and has the honor to acknowledge the receipt of his two communications dated March 31 and April 1, 1941,15 concerning the taking of possession and control of certain Italian merchant vessels lying in ports of the United States and the removal therefrom of the officers and crews.

The law of the United States makes it a felony for the master or any person in charge or command of a vessel within the territorial waters of the United States, or for any member of the crew or other person, willfully to cause or permit the destruction or injury of such vessel or to tamper with its motive power or instrumentalities of navigation. It also authorizes the authorities of the Government of the United States to take possession and control of any vessel and to remove therefrom the officers and crews when such action is deemed to be necessary to protect the vessel from damage or injury or to prevent damage or injury to any harbor or waters of the United States.

Of the twenty-seven Italian vessels in ports of continental United States, twenty-five of them were so badly damaged that extensive repairs in shipyards will be necessary to render possible their navigation. These concerted and widespread acts of destruction on the part of officers and crews in violation of specific provisions of the statutory laws of the United States, and at a time when the vessels were enjoying the hospitality and protection of our ports cannot be viewed with equanimity. The Italian Ambassador must have overlooked the gravity of the situation when in his communication of March 31 he registered a protest against the action on the part of the Federal authorities with respect to “Italian properties and nationals”.

With respect to the Ambassador’s specific inquiry as to the views and intentions of the Government of the United States regarding the [Page 463] ships and their crews, the Ambassador is informed that this matter is now receiving the attention of the appropriate authorities of the Government and will be determined in the light of the law and the pertinent facts.

The Secretary of State will communicate with the Ambassador concerning the other questions raised by him as soon as advices thereon shall have been received from the authorities directly concerned.

  1. Note of April 1 not printed.