305. Memorandum From Ashley Hewitt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1 2

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  • Ecuadoran Seizure of U.S. Fishing Vessels

Secretary Rogers and the President discussed today the problem presented by Ecuadoran seizures of U.S. fishing vessels, and the President reportedly made the following decisions:

  • —that Secretary Rogers should call in and lodge a strong protest with the Ecuadoran Ambassador;
  • —that all Foreign Military Sales to Ecuador should be suspended for one year under the terms of the Act relating to seizure of fishing vessels;
  • —that consideration be given to invocation of the Kuchel and Pelly Amendments to the Foreign Assistance Act. (The Kuchel Amendment directs that fishing boat seizures be taken into account in any contemplated aid programs, and the Pelly Amendment provides for submission by the owners of bills for fines to the U.S. Government and subsequent deduction from aid programs for the country in question.)

The state of play is as follows:

  • —The Ecuadoran authorities seized four U.S. fishing vessels between January 11 and January 17. An additional four or five are reported to have been seized today. (In addition, a Panamanian and a Japanese vessel have been seized.)
  • —According to industry spokesman in contact with the vessels by radio, two vessels were fired upon by Ecuadoran Air Force planes, and a source in the Ecuadoran Air Force confirms that fighter aircraft were dispatched to assist the Navy in its seizure operations. There are additional reports, as yet unconfirmed, of shots having been fired by Ecuadoran Navy vessels during the act of seizing U.S. vessels.
  • —Acting on standing instructions, Ambassador Burns called on the Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Saturday to present our strong protests of the seizures. The Foreign Minister said the vessels which had been seized would be fined in accordance with Ecuadoran law, but flatly denied that any vessels had been fired upon by Ecuadoran aircraft. Assistant Secretary Meyer also telephoned the Ecuadoran Ambassador in Washington to protest both the seizures and the reported firings.
  • —Pending further determinations of action, all new aid programs or undertakings have been suspended, as well as all actions under the FMS program.

Past History: The problem of the 200 mile limit claimed by Ecuador, and which we do not acknowledge, has been a continuing and serious irritant in our relations with Ecuador, as well as in our relations with Peru and Chile. Periodically the GOE decides to assert itself and seizures occur. This frequently happens just at this season, which is the heaviest fishing season in the Humbolt current. The most recent serious siege of seizures occurred in 1969 in both Ecuador and Peru, and at that time we formally suspended all foreign military sales to both countries. However, the present series of fishing boat seizures is the most extensive in my memory. This sudden and spasmodic attempt by Ecuador to enforce its maritime claims may be related to growing instability within the GOE as demonstrated by a recent outbreak of fighting between army and police units. It may also be related to disgruntlement on the part of the GOE at our inability to provide certain naval vessels which it had requested. The GOE recently decided not to participate in the annual UNITAS naval exercise with the U.S. and other Latin American navies for this reason.

There have been frequent calls over the years by the industry for sterner measures in dealing with ship seizures by Ecuador and other West Coast countries. These calls have included requests for cutting off all assistance, providing armed escorts for the U.S. fishing fleets, etc. I understand that Congress is already under heavy pressure because of the recent siege of seizures and may decide to hold hearings. The present series has also received widespread media coverage, particularly on the West Coast.

Two small escort-type vessels are on loan to the GOE under the Ship Loan Act. Technically, these loans expired in 1965 and were never renewed. However, we never requested return of the vessels. It is not known whether either of these vessels participated in recent seizures.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, HAK Office Files, Box 148, Agency and Congressional Files, State/WH Relationship, Vol. 4. Secret. Sent for information. Haig initialed the memorandum and wrote at the top: “File State/WH relationship.” On January 19, Hewitt reported to Kissinger that Ambassador Burns emphasized that measures adversely affecting the Ecuadorian military would hurt U.S. interests and diminish U.S. influence over the long term. Hewitt, however, thought that the FMS suspension would not have a significant effect on U.S. relations with Ecuador. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 784, Country Files, Latin America, Ecuador, Vol. I, 1969–1970)
  2. Hewitt conveyed to Kissinger that President Nixon had tasked Secretary of State Rogers with lodging a strong protest with the Ecuadorian Ambassador; suspending Foreign Military Sales (FMS) sales for a year; and considering invoking the Kuchel and Pelley Amendments.