509. Memorandum on the Substance of Discussions at a Department of State-Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting, the Pentagon, February 25, 1955, 11:30 a.m.1

[Here follows a list of those present (17), including 10 representatives from the Department of Defense, 5 from the Department of State, and 2 from the Central Intelligence Agency.]

[Here follows discussion of items I, II, and III: “NNSC”, “Schedule of Distinguished Visitors from Foreign Countries where MDAP Programs are in Process or Planned”, and “Defense Views on Latin American Military Programs”.]

[Page 1025]

IV Interception and Detention of Fishing Vessels by Peru

Mr. Murphy asked Admiral Radford if he had anything to tell State on this subject. Admiral Radford replied that all he wanted to say was that the JCS recognizes the three-mile limit.

Ambassador Dreier gave a general résumé of this subject. He pointed out that the problem with Peru reflected an extreme manifestation of a world-wide tendency for States to extend their territorial waters into the high seas, particularly with reference to fisheries. The problem had two phases: the bilateral phase of our immediate controversy with Peru, and the multilateral phase involving a consideration of the question of fisheries, territorial waters and related problems in various meetings of the United Nations and the Organization of American States during the next two years. Specific bilateral disputes had to be handled with an eye to developments in the multilateral consideration of the general problem.

We have protested all Peruvian actions in contravention of the freedom of the seas beyond the three-mile limit and have been looking for a good case to try to take to the International Court. The case brought up by the Navy Department, which refers to the two vessels Tony B and Western Star,2 was the first involving American flag vessels, the Onassis case having involved Panamanian flag vessels.3 More recently, 11 American flag vessels were intercepted 20 miles from the Peruvian coast and brought into court, some of them being forced to pay a tax on their fish.4 We believe that this incident gives us a good basis on which to propose to Peru that the matter be taken to the International Court of Justice. If Peru agrees, we are confident they will lose the case and if they refuse to go into the Court, it will indicate to other countries the weakness of their juridical position.

Admiral Davis asked if it were not possible to separate the question of fishery rights from the question of territorial waters. Ambassador Dreier said that we were attempting to do that by [Page 1026] proposing fishery conservation agreements which would recognize the interest of the other countries in preserving fishery resources off their coast, without asserting sovereignty over those waters. We intend to make such a proposal to Peru again, once we have made clear our firm determination to oppose their assertions of sovereignty.

Ambassador Dreier referred to the Department’s conversation with Ambassador Berckemeyer of Peru on February 245 when he had been told in very plain language how seriously the invasion of the freedom of the seas by the Peruvian Government affected basic interests of the United States including our security interests. One objective in proposing a referral of the matter to the International Court was to make clear to Peru and other countries that we were not limiting ourselves to verbal protests but were determined to defend our rights in this matter.

Admiral Radford referred to the old days when it was possible to send a couple of destroyers down to patrol the area, and suggested he supposed we could still do that any time we wanted.

The Admiral also referred to the fact that the U.S. had fostered the development of a tuna packing industry in Peru and this might possibly have a bearing on the program.

Mr. Murphy asked if there were any specific naval comments on this question. Admiral Duncan6 stated that the Navy’s position was that there should be no move on the part of the U.S. Government which would lend any validity to the arrogation by Peru of international waters off its coast.

In further discussion, Ambassador Dreier referred to the series of protests which we had lodged with the Latin American countries concerned as a matter of record, and added that we had advised private citizens to refrain from acts that might imply acceptance of Peruvian and other similar claims.

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Mr. Murphy stressed that the Department takes a serious view of the question, and is upholding our traditional position on freedom of the seas.7

  1. Source: Department of State, State–JCS Meetings: Lot 61 D 417. Top Secret. A cover sheet bears the following notation: “State Draft. Not cleared with any of participants.”
  2. Reference is to the Western Clipper.
  3. In November 1954, five ships of the Onassis whaling fleet, registered under the Panamanian flag, were seized and fined $3 million for illegal whaling in Peruvian waters. The fine was paid, with reservation of the right to appeal. Documentation concerning this matter is in Department of State, Central File 397.022–IA.
  4. Details of this incident were provided in telegram 258 from Lima, February 18. It reported that a Peruvian destroyer had come upon a fleet of more than 20 U.S. fishing vessels and asked them to show their licenses. Originally 11 were detained, but 3 with expired licenses were released. The remaining 8 were brought to the port of Talara, where they were charged with fishing in Peruvian waters without licenses. (Ibid., 611.236/2–1855) Telegram 261 from Lima, February 21, reported that all U.S. fishing vessels had finally been released. The last 5 were assessed a total of approximately $2,000 “export duty”, which they paid; but the Embassy understood that they planned to file a protest. (Ibid., 611.236.2–2155)
  5. No record of this conversation with Ambassador Fernando Berckemeyer has been found in Department of State files.
  6. Admiral Donald B. Duncan, Vice Chief of Naval Operations.
  7. Telegram 200 to Lima, February 28, transmitted a note and an aide-mémoire for the Embassy to present to the Peruvian Foreign Minister. The note protested Peruvian violations of international law in intercepting U.S. fishing vessels on the high seas and levying export duties on their cargoes, and requested certified copies of all official documents relating to recent incidents. The telegram also informed the Embassy that Rollin S. Atwood had talked with the Peruvian Ambassador, who later spoke to the Foreign Minister by telephone. The Foreign Minister reportedly had asked Ambassador Berckemeyer to assure the United States of “full cooperation,” and gave assurances that Peru had no other motives besides preserving the riches of the sea when it set up its 200-mile maritime zone. (Department of State, Central Files, 611.236/2–2855) Telegram 281 from Lima, March 6, reported that the Ambassador handed the note and aide-mémoire to the Foreign Minister on March 5. (Ibid., 611.236/3–655)