The German Chargé (Thomsen) to the Secretary of State
Mr. Secretary of State: Referring to the notes which I have sent to Your Excellency, in the name of my Government, on March 31st, April 1st and April 4th, in the matter of the occupation and taking possession of the two German merchant ships lying in American ports, I have the honor to direct Your Excellency’s attention to the following details regarding the crew of the motor ship Arauca:
On April 8th George Smathers, the Assistant United States District Attorney, declared in Miami, according to a United Press despatch, that it appeared from a report of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the search of the German motor ship Arauca after possession of it had been taken by the American Coast Guard on March 29th, that no damage of any kind had been discovered on board this German ship. According to the same despatch the Assistant United States District Attorney declared on that point that the office of the Federal District Attorney consequently would not prosecute Captain Friedrich Stengler and the 42 members of the crew of the Arauca. It was also emphasized in the despatch that the transfer of the crew from the Broward County jail at Fort Lauderdale to a jail in Miami had been undertaken by the American immigration authorities.[Page 465]
In view of these statements of the office of the Federal District Attorney and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, I renew my urgent request of Your Excellency that the whole crew of the motor ship Arauca be released at once by the American authorities and that it be made possible for it to stay on board its ship without hindrance.
As, according to the statements of the competent American investigative authorities, the crew has been guilty of no offense against American criminal laws, nor has it acted contrary to American laws in any other way, its forcible removal from on board its ship at Port Everglades took place contrary to law and must therefore be nullified, as a self-evident consequence of the statements of the American investigating authorities.
In this connection, I take the liberty of reminding Your Excellency that the Arauca was on a homeward voyage to Germany, as an unarmed and unprotected merchant ship of the German merchant marine, when it was hunted and pursued along the American coast by a British cruiser. I venture also to remind Your Excellency that the British cruiser in question endeavored by firing a service charge to force the Arauca to stop and surrender, while the German merchant vessel was already undoubtedly in American territorial waters. In view of this flagrant violation of the American rights of sovereignty by the commander of the British cruiser, the unarmed German merchant ship had a double right to seek refuge in an American port and to lay claim to the hospitality of the United States until the danger of attacks by the enemy’s naval forces was removed. From that time on, the motor ship Arauca has remained at Port Everglades with its crew, as the danger of an English attack in American territorial waters has continued.
Ship and crew are therefore legally in an American harbor, on the basis of international law and the obligations assumed by the Government of the United States in the German-American Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Consular Rights, and the [members of the]16 crew have the right, as foreign seamen on board a foreign merchant ship, to remain on board their ship for an indefinite time. The forcible removal of the members of the crew from the Arauca and their illegal detention on land by the American authorities do not make any change in the status of the German seamen. They have not thereby become seamen who have been shipwrecked or discharged or have left their ship otherwise; neither have they entered the country illegally, and therefore proceedings under the American immigration laws cannot be instituted against them from any legal standpoint; nor is there the slightest ground for locking them up in a jail under humiliating and degrading circumstances. For the same reason, there [Page 466]is no limit whatsoever to their sojourn within the territory of the United States. They are still, just as before, bona fide seamen of good repute on board a merchant ship of a foreign country, the relations of which with the United States, just as before, are governed by the principles of international law and regulated by a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Consular Rights that is in full force. Appealing to these principles and treaty rights, I therefore make a most emphatic protest also against those measures which the American immigration authorities have undertaken and instituted against the German members of the crew. I repeat my request to Your Excellency to take all necessary steps for the release of the members of the crew and at the same time to allow them again the right to remain freely on board their ship.
Regarding the crew of the German tanker Pauline Friedrich, I will express myself in another note.
- Brackets appear in the file translation.↩