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 communication of April 14, 1941 in further relation to the taking of possession and control of certain Italian merchant vessels lying in the ports of the United States and the removal therefrom of the officers and crews.

Due consideration has been given to the legalistic argument advanced by the Ambassador relative to his supposition as to the bearing or lack of bearing upon the action taken by authorities of the United States of certain statutes of this country. However, the Secretary of State still adheres to the view expressed in his note of April 3, 1941 as follows:

[Here follows second paragraph of note printed on page 462.]

Consistently with that view as to statutory powers the authorities of the United States took possession and control of the Italian vessels in question, nearly all of which had been so badly damaged that to render them capable of navigation would require the expensive process of extensive repairing. Of course it will not be denied that such damage was inflicted by the officers and crews of the vessels while the vessels were enjoying the hospitality and protection of ports of the United States.

Furthermore there are to be considered not only actual damage to the vessels but threatened damage. Reports from reliable sources are to the effect that in ports of other American countries Italian vessels have recently been sunk or burned by actions of their officers and crews. It seems not unreasonable to believe that if the Government of the United States had not taken the preventative action in question a similar fate would have befallen some, at least, of the Italian vessels in ports of the United States and thus, of course, the damage already suffered by such vessels involving as it does their mobility and so impairing the convenience and safety of our harbors would have been greatly enhanced with the consequent increase in the danger to the freedom of navigation and safety of our harbors.

In this relation the Secretary of State is unable to agree with the view of the Italian Ambassador that the acts done by the officers and crews of the Italian vessels did not disturb the peace, tranquillity or order of the ports where these vessels are situated. On the contrary the Secretary of State is clearly of the opinion that these acts were largely disturbing. Moreover, there can be no doubt that the acts threatened to be done, as judged by acts done elsewhere, would, if consummated, have been much more disturbing. In this regard the [Page 470] Secretary of State is strongly of the opinion that there is no rule or principle of international law which was violated by the action taken by authorities of the United States against the Italian vessels and that in the note under acknowledgment the Italian Ambassador has expressed a view too strongly limiting the jurisdiction of a nation over foreign merchant vessels in its harbors.

With respect to the application to officers and crews of the Italian vessels in question of the immigration laws of the United States the Ambassador is advised that his comments on this matter have been brought to the attention of the Department directly concerned.