President Roosevelt to the Secretary of State

My Dear Mr. Secretary: Careful consideration has been given to your letter of January 22, 1942, with regard to the vessels operated by Seatrain Lines between Gulf ports, Havana and New York, there being five (5) special design of ships under operation by this company, two (2) of which were taken by the Maritime Commission and turned over to the Navy Department for the necessary conversion and use for essential national defense purposes.

You, of course, are aware that this subject is a matter falling under the statutory cognizance of the Maritime Commission in accordance with Section 902 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, as amended.

I am advised that voluminous correspondence has already taken place between the Owner of the Line and the Maritime Commission so that all of the facts are available and these in turn have been made available to both the Navy Department and the War Department. During the past six months the question has been repeatedly considered by the Maritime Commission and the Navy Department of taking over either one, two or three of the remaining vessels. After [Page 346] repeated investigations and discussion of the subject, the Navy Department finally relinquished its claims to these three (3) vessels, not because they could not utilize them satisfactorily but because of the commercial conditions existing which made it appear more desirable to retain them in commercial use rather than divert them to special Naval use.

In the meantime, December 7th occurred and the necessity of additional ships far beyond those available either under American flag or under American control became more and more evident. Specifically, the War Department has definite military uses for these three (3) vessels but in order not to seriously hamper commercial activities whenever and wherever it can be avoided, the present general status of the matter is to take these remaining three (3) vessels one at a time and then only if urgent military requirements necessitate such action.

It is of interest to note that this design of ship has many advantages for both commercial and military work but unfortunately some of the important advantages are entirely dependent upon shore installations, and the commercial operations of these vessels require primary utilization at those ports only where exist the particular port facilities essential to efficient handling of the cargo containers primarily utilized in their operations. This being true, it is necessary for the Navy to install cargo-handling devices on the ships themselves which the Navy took over and some similar modifications and installations will have to be made if and when any of the remaining three (3) vessels are taken over by the Army. Present investigations indicate that less elaborate conversions and installations will be necessary for Army purposes than have obtained for Navy purposes.

In conclusion, please be assured that full consideration has been and will be given to this matter and it is my understanding that final action will not be taken with regard to the remaining three (3) vessels until it is evident that the necessities of national defense require such action.

Very sincerely yours,

Franklin D. Roosevelt