The Belgian Ambassador ( Van der Straten-Ponthoz ) to the Secretary of State

No. 1337

The Belgian Ambassador presents his compliments to His Excellency the Secretary of State and has the honor to acknowledge the receipt of his communication of February 15, 1941, regarding four tankers lying at Port Arthur, Texas, which have been libeled by the Belgian Government under circumstances which have been fully set forth in the communications which the Belgian Ambassador has had the honor to address to the Secretary of State.

The Belgian Ambassador would be happy to see the matter adjusted on a fair basis, and to that end counsel for the Embassy have been in touch with counsel for Gulf Oil Corporation, having in mind that [Page 14] many of the problems involved are of a legal character. Counsel for Gulf Oil Corporation have taken the position that while they are prepared to listen to any proposals, it would be useless for the Belgian Government to suggest any solution which involved a retransfer of the four vessels to Belgian registry, and they have further indicated that their position remained as set forth in the letter of January 29, 1941,14 to Captain René Boël, Chief of the Belgian Economic Mission, and Sir T. Ashley Sparks, representative of the British Ministry of Shipping in the United States (transmitted to the Secretary of State by a letter dated February 6th., 1941, No. 831).

The Belgian Ambassador fully realizes that the Department of State cannot require an American Company to agree to any particular kind of settlement. On the other hand, the Belgian Embassy does not feel that it can consent to the termination of the libel and leave the vessels under the control of the Gulf Oil Corporation since this solution would mean an abandonment of the rights which it is asserting.

The major difficulty which still separates the Belgian Government and the Gulf Oil Corporation in this matter is thus that of the flag. The position of the Gulf Oil Corporation on this point renders it difficult for the Belgian Government to see how a solution can be reached. The question of flag is one of vital moment to a government. It is difficult to understand why it can be of such importance from the point of view of a private company that this private company reject all discussion of the subject.

In this connection the Embassy would point out that the statement in the note of the State Department “that the ships were and are in fact the property of an American corporation” fails to take into account the fact that these ships were the property of a Belgian company, registered under Belgian law and flying the flag of Belgium. In causing these vessels to be so owned and registered, the Gulf Oil Corporation took full advantage of the benefits of Belgian incorporation and Belgian registry in the past, and it is difficult to understand how it can today demand the right to throw off all responsibility which it thereby assumed.

The Belgian Embassy appreciates the interest which the Department of State has taken in this matter and the expressed willingness to assist in working out a solution which will permit the useful employment of four vessels at a time when the need for tonnage is so great. It is with reluctance that the Belgian Government would see vessels tied up during protracted litigation.

Counsel for the Belgian Government had suggested setting the trial for March 10th which would have given a few additional days [Page 15] to ascertain in further detail the views of the respective governments in London. Upon the insistence of Gulf Oil Corporation the date of the trial has, however, been fixed for today, March 3rd., 1941.

As previously stated, the Embassy stands ready to cooperate to the fullest extent along the lines previously indicated in meeting any expressed needs of the United States Navy Department with respect to these vessels.

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