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Royal Government to constitute a violation of international rules as sanctioned by the law of nations, no measure of reprisals or retortion had been taken. This procedure on the part of the Swedish Government was due to their conviction that His Britannic Majesty's Government would consider it right and equitable to rectify the measures in question.
The seizure of the parcels on the Hellig Olaf and the Stockholm gives the impression, however, that the British authorities, far from wishing to minimize the difficulties, find pleasure in increasing them.
The Royal Government, while protesting in the most formal manner against the seizure of the parcels in question, have to their great regret felt constrained to direct the Postal Administration in Sweden to detain all goods from or to England sent by the parcels mail in transit through Sweden. This measure will be maintained by the Swedish authorities till the matter is settled in a manner which the Royal Government considers satisfactory, and a guarantee is given against the repetition of an incident of this nature, so contrary to international law.
I avail, &c.
SWEDISH LEGATION, London, December 27, 1915.
With reference to the note that I had the honor to address to your Excellency on the 18th instant, and in accordance with instructions received from my Government, I have the honor to inform you of the protest of the Swedish Government against fresh infractions of the international rules respecting the free passage of correspondence and postal parcels. The cases in question are the following:
1. Postal parcels for Sweden sent from New York on the 8th instant have been seized on board the Danish steamship Frederik VIII at Kirkwall.
2. On the 21st instant, the British authorities seized on board the Netherlands steamship Tubantia eight mail-bags coming from Spain and six from Buenos Aires, all fourteen being addressed to Sweden.
3. The mail-bags despatched from Gothenburg to New York from the 7th to the 12th November last were opened by the British authorities; the majority of the postal parcels therein contained were censored and ten registered parcels were retained.
4. The Netherlands Postal Administration has informed the Swedish Government that mail-bags containing letters from the Argentine Republic for Sweden have been seized on board the Netherlands steamship Frisia.
As regards the case mentioned under No. 4, the action against which the protest of the Swedish Government is directed appears to be in direct contradiction of the international conventions which prescribe the inviolability of the letter post between neutral countries or board neutral vessels.
In the latter case, the Swedish Government reserve the right also to take further measures.
I have, &c.
WRANGEL. No. 4 Sir Edward Grey to Count Wrangel The attached memorandum is transmitted with the compliments of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
FOREIGN OFFICE, December 30, 1915.
Memorandum Danish steamship Hellig Olaf.
On examination of the parcels mail discharged from the above vessel at Kirkwall, 109 bags containing rubber were discovered and detained, all of them consigned from the Rex Chemical Company, 68 Broad Street, New York, to Jonsson and Kraft, of Gothenburg, and His Majesty's Customs have been requested to place this rubber in the Prize Court, on the ground that it is believed to be destined for Germany.
Sir Edward Grey to Count Wrangel
FOREIGN OFFICE, January 1, 1916. I have received, and read with considerable surprise, your note the 18th ultimo respecting the examination by the British authorities
of the parcels mail found on board the Danish steamship Hellig Olaf and the Swedish steamship Stockholm. You inform me that the Swedish Government protest against this interference with the parcels mail between Sweden and the United States, as contrary to international law.
It is difficult to understand this contention. The steamship Hellig Olaf was carrying a number of postal parcels as to which there was reason to suspect that some had an enemy destination. The ship was accordingly visited and searched in accordance with the well-known and well-established belligerent right. In order not to delay the ship unnecessarily, the suspected parcels were removed for examination, and the ship itself allowed to proceed. The result of the examination was to show that one-third of the parcels contained absolute contraband destined for Germany. These will be put into the Prize Court. The remainder of the parcels have been forwarded to their addresses. In the same way the steamship Stockholm was visited and searched. Suspected parcels were removed, and the ship sent on. In this case the parcels turned out to be unobjectionable from a belligerent point of view, and they too have been dispatched to their destinations.
These are the plain facts of the incidents, and His Majesty's Government is at a loss to imagine what is the breach of international law suggested by the Swedish Government. It cannot surely be intended to dispute that a belligerent has a right to visit and search a neutral ship and cargo where he suspects an invasion of his belligerent rights. The Swedish Government are far too familiar with international law to raise such a contention as that. Still less can it be supposed that the Swedish Government desire to throw doubt on the legality of seizure by a belligerent of contraband destined for an enemy country. Is it then suggested that the fact that the goods in question were being transmitted by parcels post renders them immune from the operation of belligerent rights. I am unaware of any justification for such a suggestion. On the contrary, when, at the Second Peace Conference, it was agreed by the Powers which took part in it, to grant for the first time immunity in certain circumstances to postal correspondence found upon neutral ships on the high seas, it was expressly declared in the debate which led up to this decision that parcels were “certainly excluded from the privileged treatment accorded to postal correspondence.” Indeed, it is obvious that any other decision would have practically destroyed belligerent rights with
respect to contraband and blockade. It is further worthy of remark that the right of visit and search, even in the case of letter post, was expressly preserved, and that letters going to and coming from blockaded ports were exempted from the immunity in question.
The Swedish Government are, of course, perfectly cognizant of all these considerations, and I can only suppose that the protest which you have been instructed to make is based on some misapprehension of the facts. That, too, must be the explanation of their otherwise inexplicable and, I must add, indefensible procedure in detaining the British transit mail to Russia. As I understand your note it is not pretended that the Swedish Government have any right to take such action except by way of reprisal or retortion. I must take leave to observe that for a friendly Government to proceed to reprisals or retortion without asking for or receiving any explanation of the alleged offense is a somewhat arbitrary procedure. At the least it imposes on the Government taking such drastic action the duty of making itself quite sure of its ground. In this case I feel convinced that after due consideration the Swedish Government will recognize that the action of His Majesty's Government has been perfectly correct. His Majesty's Government must therefore request the immediate release of the British mails, and would welcome any explanation which the Swedish Government may wish to offer.
I desire to add that His Majesty's Government must regret the delay which the exercise of its belligerent rights caused to the innocent parcels post by the steamships Hellig Olaf and Stockholm, and to express the hope that no serious inconvenience was thereby caused. They have done their utmost to minimize delay and inconvenience.
I have, &c.
FOREIGN OFFICE, January 19, 1916. Sir,
With reference to my note of the 1st instant, I have the honor to enquire when I may hope to receive the answer of the Swedish Government to my request for an explanation of their attitude in respect to the detention of the British transit mail to Russia.
You will allow me to observe that the failure of the Swedish
Government to make any reply to my communication, and to continue the admittedly illegal detention of British mails, contrasts singularly with the efforts made by His Majesty's Government to minimize in every possible way the inevitable inconvenience to Swedish subjects involved in the exercise by Great Britain of her undoubted belligerent rights in dealing with the illicit abuse of Swedish mails by enemy traders.
If the Swedish Government consider it proper indefinitely to embargo British mails without any justification, His Majesty's Government do not see how they can be expected not to place a similar embargo on all Swedish mails.
I have, &c.
SWEDISH LEGATION, London, January 21, 1916. I did not fail to bring to the notice of the King's Government the note which your Excellency was good enough to address to me on the 1st instant respecting the seizure of the Swedish mails on board the steamships Hellig Olaf and Stockholm.
In reply to that note, I have received instructions to communicate the following to your Excellency:
The King's Government venture to point out, in the first place, that, in expressing the opinion that the postal parcels in question had been detained and in part seized contrary to international law, they never thought of founding themselves on an appeal to those special provisions regarding the inviolability of postal correspondence, which are found in the 11th Hague Convention of 1907.
The Royal Government are well aware that the provisions in question apply only to letters and not to postal parcels.
It is on other grounds that the Royal Government base their opinion, and have consequently taken their measures.
As His Britannic Majesty's Government are aware, the King's Government have at no time admitted that the seizures in the form and to the extent to which they have been carried out by the British authorities during the present war were justified.