The Ambassador in Mexico ( Thurston ) to the Secretary of State

No. 1186

Sir: I have the honor to report in the following paragraphs the developments to date with regard to the apprehension of several American fishing vessels by a Mexican coastguard cutter and information concerning their detention at the port of Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche. …

The Embassy was informed by the American Consul at Mérida in a telegram dated September 9, that a Mexican coastguard vessel had arrived at Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche, with four American fishing boats in tow. The Consul also mentioned that he had heard that the boats were found fishing in Mexican waters. As was later ascertained, the names of these four vessels and their captains are: the E. F. Marine, Captain Manuel Sarabia, the Faith, Captain Jesse Zorne, the Pearl Harbor, Captain Theonis Harrington, and the Gennie V, Captain Joseph F. Allen.

An officer of the Embassy called on Licenciado Campos Ortiz, the Oficial Mayor of the Mexican Foreign Office, during the morning of September 10, and asked him to inquire of the Ministry of Marine whether a Mexican coastguard vessel had brought four American fishing boats into Ciudad del Carmen. Licenciado Campos Ortiz informed the Embassy later in the day that the vessels had been apprehended, that the Ministry of Marine was still collecting information and that the Secretary of Marine53 did not yet know the reason for the apprehension. In the meantime, the Naval Attaché of the Embassy54 ascertained from the Ministry of Marine that the vessels were charged with violating Mexican fishing laws. The Embassy was informed on the morning of September 11 that the four vessels would probably be released on that day and that orders had been sent by the Minister of Marine to the Mexican authorities in Ciudad del Carmen for their release. Licenciado Campos Ortiz stated on September 11 that the Foreign Minister had discussed the [Page 1059] case with the President of Mexico and that the latter agreed that the boats should be released without a judicial investigation. On the evening of the same day confirmation was received from the Ministry of Marine that telegraphic orders to release the four vessels had been sent on the previous day to the Mexican authorities in Ciudad del Carmen. The Ministry of Marine stated that as they had been fishing in Mexican waters, a fine of 1,000 pesos per vessel had been levied.

As telegrams were received during the afternoon of September 12 from the American Consul in Mérida, reporting five additional American fishing vessels detained in Ciudad del Carmen; and from the Captain of the E. F. Marine, reporting attempts to collect additional fines, the Embassy sent Vice Consuls Raymond Bastianello and Armando Vargas on September 13 in one of the Embassy airplanes to Ciudad del Carmen. The two Consular officers were instructed to take the depositions of the masters of the nine vessels and to obtain from them details with regard to their apprehension and treatment. There are enclosed herewith, in duplicate, copies of the nine affidavits and also of the memorandum prepared by the Consular officers upon their return.55

[Here follow details of a procedural nature.]

The files of the Department contain voluminous correspondence between the Embassy and the Mexican Foreign Office in 1936;56 following the announcement by the Mexican Government of its claim to severeignty over waters up to a distance of nine nautical miles from the Mexican coasts. This correspondence was instituted following the publication, on August 31, 1935, in the Diario Oficial of a decree claiming jurisdiction up to nine nautical miles; and amending the decree of December 18, 1902, by which Mexico claimed sovereignty over waters extending 20 kilometers from the coast. The 1936 correspondence on this subject in the files of the Embassy reveals that Great Britain as well as the United States refused to recognize the nine nautical mile limit proclaimed by Mexico. It is the Embassy’s opinion, however, that it cannot now make representations based upon the views of the United States Government expressed in 1936. It is therefore respectfully requested that the Department send instructions to the Embassy.

The amendment of Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, by which Mexico claims as territory of the nation the subsoil of the continental shelf and the waters above the continental shelf, which amendment was approved by the Mexican Congress, has not, as far as the Embassy [Page 1060] can ascertain, been ratified by the required number of states; and the amended Article 27 has not been published in the Diario Oficial. The revised Article 27 does not become law until the date of promulgation. Therefore, the Embassy knows of no legal basis for the apprehension of these vessels at a distance of over nine nautical miles from the coast. It is regretted that the masters of the four vessels signed a statement that their position, when apprehended, was four miles from land.

[Here follows data for background information of the Department.]

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
Paul J. Reveley

Second Secretary of Embassy
  1. Gen. Heriberto Jara.
  2. Capt. Albert E. Jarrell.
  3. None printed.
  4. Foreign Relations, 1936, vol. v, pp. 758770.