Page images

and thick weather and the consequent necessary change of the usual danger signal in fog from one blast to three. The bill was favored by nearly all the masters and pilots of lake vessels and by a large majority of owners. Its advocates were confident that the adoption of the same rules by Canada would follow their adoption by the United States, and through the proper channels the Bureau has cooperated with them, thus far without success, in the endeavor to secure this important uniformity. The tonnage of the United States on the Great Lakes is 1,250,000 tons, and nine-tenths of the navigation upon them is under the American flag and under the new rules. It is believed that the Dominion of Canada will in time accept these rules, which were carefully drawn to meet the peculiar conditions of the navigation of the lakes and the narrow channels connecting them, and are observed by a great majority of the lake fleet.


In the report of the Bureau for 1894 attention was invited to the difficulties arising in the administration of section 4136 of the Revised Statutes, owing to the failure of its language to express clearly the intent of Congress. The section reads:

SEC. 4136. The Secretary of the Treasury may issue a register or enrollment for any vessel built in a foreign country, whenever such vessel shall be wrecked in the United States, and shall be purchased and repaired by a citizen of the United States, if it shall be proved to the satisfaction of the Secretary that the repairs put upon such vessel are equal to three-fourths of the cost of the vessel when so repaired.

The section was amended by the act of July 5, 1884, creating the Bureau of Navigation, which authorized the Commissioner of Navigation to issue the documents formerly issued by the Secretary of the Treasury under this section.

The plain intention of section 4136 was to give to wrecked vessels which were practically rebuilt in the United States the same privilege that vessels would have if wholly built within the United States. Its ultimate purpose was to aid American shipbuilding, and it was evidently considered by Congress that the rebuilding of three-fourths of a vessel was to be encouraged as well as the building of a vessel entire.

Such was the construction of the section made by the Solicitor-General in an opinion dated September 29, 1891, to be found entire in Appendix N, with the opinion of the Attorney-General in a case arising this year. If it was the intent of Congress to encourage the rebuilding of threefourths of a vessel as well as the construction of an entire vessel in the United States, a clear expression of that intent would not only facilitate the administration of the law and relieve Congress of the necessity for passing special acts, but would also be of material assistance to American shipowners and shipbuilders. The section is far from expressing clearly any such intent. Construed literally and alone it does not even require that the repairs shall be made in the United States, but mainly that the wreck shall have occurred in this country.

In the several constructions of the act by various Attorneys-General it has been held that the words "built in a foreign country" must be eliminated from the section in order that American-built vessels sold foreign and subsequently wrecked and repaired in this country may be brought again under the American flag. It has been held that the words "purchased and repaired by a citizen of the United States" may be transposed so that a vessel repaired by its foreign owner and navigated by him for several years may subsequently be purchased by an American citizen and admitted to registry. It has been held that

the word "cost" should be construed literally and that repairs to the amount of three times the price paid at the marshal's sale of the wreck entitle a vessel to registry, though the aggregate cost may be much less than the appraised value of the repaired vessel. Finally the AttorneyGeneral has held that the wreck may occur outside the United States and the vessel may still be entitled to registry. The words "wrecked in the United States" present numerous difficulties in interpretation. First, it is not easy to determine the extent of damage a vessel must undergo to be considered a wreck for the purposes of this section. It has been argued that a vessel stranded and abandoned by crew and owners in foreign waters, but subsequently towed to the United States where she sank, was not a wreck until finally sunk, or if a wreck when abandoned abroad became also a wreck in the United States. The exact point at which a wreck occurred, whether within or without the marine jurisdiction of the United States, is at times a matter of conflicting or uncertain evidence, and for the obvious reason that those best in a position to know the facts at the time of a wreck are concerned more with the preservation of life and property than with ascertaining whether they are within or without the 3-mile limit.

If the purpose of the section is to encourage the rebuilding of threefourths of a vessel in the United States, as it appears to be, then the ambiguities and limitations noted, so far from being essential to the execution of the intent of the law, impede and embarrass its fulfillment. To the fulfillment of that purpose it is of no consequence whether a wreck occurred within 2 miles or 20 miles of the coast. All that is essential is the performance of the repair work within the United States. Indeed it does not appear to be essential to the purpose of the act that a vessel should actually be wrecked. The fact that a ship has undergone a marine disaster does not seem to furnish an especially valid reason for registry over the reasons which might be urged for the register of a more fortunate vessel receiving an equivalent amount of repairs. Presumably in most instances the extensive repairs called for by section 4136 will not be made unless a vessel has been seriously damaged by the elements, but if an American purchaser is willing to make the amount of repairs required by the section, there is nothing to be gained by requiring that the vessel through misfortune or mismanagement should first have been wrecked.

While these restrictions do not appear essential to the true intent of the section, it is defective in making the cost of the wreck the basis upon which the extent of repairs shall be computed, instead of making the appraised value of the repaired vessel the basis. Under the present law "the cost of the vessel when so repaired" consists of the cost of the wreck, usually the price paid at the marshal's sale at public auction, plus repairs, which must be three times that cost. Obviously the appraised value of the vessel will frequently be much greater than this cost. Competition at the marshal's auction is not keen and the number of purchasers is limited, so that these wrecks are usually bought as bargains. There may be instances in which the cost of the wreck plus repairs will be greater than the appraised value of the repaired vessel, but these instances will be extremely rare. The appraised value of a repaired wreck represents the cost for which an equivalent construction could be purchased in the American market. It is a truer measure of the amount of American work, which the section doubtless meant to require, than is the cost now prescribed by statute.

It is suggested that the true purpose of section 4136 can be attained by eliminating from it all reference to wrecks, and by permitting the

issue of an American register to a foreign vessel when three-fourths of its appraised value at the time application for registry is made shall be the product of American labor. To prevent cumulative repairs, covering a period of years, from being made the basis for an application for registry, the repairs should be confined to the twelve months or thereabouts previous to the date of application for registry.

It is believed that these amendments are a truer expression of what appears to have been the intent of Congress than is the language of the present section. They enlarge the scope of the present section in some respects and curtail it in others. They permit more applications for registry than are now possible, and thus increase such opportunities for American labor as the section affords, and, by making appraised value instead of cost the measure of repairs to be made, they increase the amount of American labor necessary to registry.

The records show that the Bureau of Navigation has issued registers to 18 foreign-built vessels pursuant to section 4136, while Congress has admitted by special acts 29 foreign-built vessels on which it is understood repairs to the extent of three-fourths of the cost of the repaired vessel were made. These special acts were rendered necessary by the fact that the vessels concerned were wrecked outside of the United States, or in some instances were never wrecked but simply repaired and improved to the extent required by the section. These special acts would not be required if the section is amended as proposed, and applicants would be saved the delay and inconvenience necessarily attendant upon the passage of a bill through Congress, and Congress would be spared the labor incidental to the examination of details not essential to its presumed original purpose. Bill K, in accord with these recommendations, may be found under "Proposed legislation."


The law in regard to the custody of the effects of deceased seamen is in an unsatisfactory condition and furnishes a just cause of complaint by shipping commissioners, acting as officers of the circuit court. Whenever a seaman dies on a vessel bound to the United States the master, under section 4538 of the Revised Statutes, may sell his effects by auction at the mast, rendering account subsequently of such sale. Whenever a seaman dies abroad the United States consul, under section 4541, may sell his effects, rendering an account therefor to the United States courts. But when a seaman dies in the United States the law requires (section 4545) that unclaimed effects shall be retained at least six years in the custody of the court, or of the shipping commissioner acting as its officer. In most instances these effects consist to a great extent of clothing, which by the end of six years has not only become valueless but is not unlikely to become offensive and unfit for storage. The custody of these effects for so long a period does not seem a fair charge to impose on the shipping commissioners, yet the Treasury has no authority to pay for it, and the circuit courts have no accommodations for the storage of such goods.

It is recommended that section 4545 be amended so as to vest the circuit courts with discretionary power to authorize the sale hereafter of the whole or a part of the effects of deceased seamen now in their custody or which they may hereafter receive. This power is the same as that now lodged with consuls in the case of seamen dying abroad and with the masters of vessels in the case of seamen dying on the high seas, It will secure better pecuniary returns for the heirs of seamen

and, as the power to be vested in the court is discretionary, it will still be possible to preserve for those entitled to them any articles of value, keepsakes, etc., which may properly be stored awaiting claimants. The matter has been brought to the notice of this Bureau by the United States shipping commissioner at New York, and a decision of the United States circuit court on an application by that officer for relief may be found in Appendix N. Legislation to carry out this recommendation is incorporated in section 6 of bill L.

Related to this subject are an error in section 4541 and an omission in section 4542. Section 4541 provides that a United States consul shall render his return of the wages and effects of deceased seamen to the district court. All other provisions of law make the circuit courts custodians of seamen's effects, and the verbal error in section 4541 is in practice corrected by the courts. The error may with propriety be cor rected in the body of the law, and section 4 of bill L makes the correction.

It is the practice of our transatlantic and transpacific steamships to ship the greater part of their crews before the United States consuls at Southampton, Liverpool, Antwerp, and Hongkong. They are discharged at the same ports. Section 4542 provides that where a seaman, with wages due him, dies in the United States, his account shall be settled before the shipping commissioner before whom he has been or was to be discharged. The addition of the words "or where he died" to this section will protect the interest of seamen shipped at Southampton, Antwerp, or Hongkong, for the round voyage and dying in New York or San Francisco. The law is now uncertain on this point. The correction of this omission is incorporated in section 5 of bill L.


The laws of the United States, particularly section 4431 of the Revised Statutes, require that all boiler plates used in steam vessels shall be stamped with the name of the manufacturer, place of manufacture, and limit, in pounds, of tensile strain. Foreign-built boilers are not usually so marked. The question presents itself: Is this requirement of law waived when a foreign-built steamer is admitted to American registry? It has been the custom of Congress to add to every special act admitting a foreign-built steamer to American registry a clause waiving the requirements for the stamping of boiler plates and other legal requirements of construction, but requiring the boilers, engines, and machinery of the vessel to conform to all the tests of the United States. It has been the custom of the Treasury Department, in the case of foreign vessels admitted as repaired wrecks under section 4136 of the Revised Statutes, to waive the requirement for the stamping of boiler plates, while requiring inspection. This construction of the intent of the law is necessary to give any vitality to section 4136 in the case of steam vessels. It is suggested that a general law, similar to the clause which Congress now adds to each special act admitting a foreign steamer, will relieve Congress and the statute books of the repetition of the words used to waive section 4431 and other sections every time a foreign steamer is admitted by special act, and at the same time will remove any doubt concerning the legality of the practice of the Treasury Department for some years. This end can be reached by authorizing the Secretary of the Treasury to direct the issue of the usual certificate of inspection in case of any foreign vessel NAV 95, PT 1————6

admitted to American registry, whether its boilers and machinery are or are not constructed according to the laws of the United States, and whether its boiler plates are or are not stamped as required by section 4431, provided the boilers, engines, etc., conform to the tests of the United States. Legislation to carry out this recommendation is incorporated in section 13 of bill L.


By an act approved June 20, 1874, Congress required the owners or agents of American vessels which have been lost or have sustained any accident involving loss of life or material damage impairing seaworthiness to report the facts to the customs officers of the port to which the vessel belongs. The customs officers are required to transmit such reports to the Treasury Department. On these reports are based the annual statements of this Bureau of tonnage wrecked or abandoned. The reports are also essential to the Life-Saving Service. For failure to comply within a reasonable time with this requirement owners or agents become liable to a penalty of $100. But section 13 of the act provides:

All penalties herein before provided shall be prosecuted by indictment or information before the proper district court for the use of the United States.

This procedure is different from that provided for violation of the navigation laws, which, under section 4305 of the Revised Statutes, are prosecuted according to the procedure for violations of the customs laws. The United States attorney at New York reports that there are difficulties as to procedure under section 13 of the act of June 20, 1874, stating:

In this district there has been no grand jury of the district court for many years and the filing of informations has also gone out of practice.

The enforcement of the law has thus become difficult, if not impossible, at New York, the largest port of the country, where nearly 4,000 American vessels belong. Prompt reports of wrecks are indispensable to the accuracy of the records of this office as well as important to other branches of the service, and these can not be secured unless the penalty for failure to render them can be enforced. It is suggested that the peculiar and inadequate procedure now established be repealed and that prosecutions for failure to render reports of wrecks and casualties shall be conducted according to the procedure governing other violations of the navigation laws and the customs laws. Legislation to carry out this recommendation is embodied in section 10 of bill L.


At the last session Congress passed a law extending the provisions of an act of March 3, 1891, regarding the exportation of meat. It is not the province of this Bureau to discuss laws and regulations concerning cows, sheep, hogs, and horses, and it is respectfully submitted that the consideration of laws concerning those animals should not be confused with the laws relating to the entry and clearance of vessels. The section in question, which was a portion of an appropriation bill, provides that if the products of these animals do not bear the inspec tion tags of the Department of Agriculture vessels on which these articles are found shall be refused a clearance. The effect of confusing the powers of two Departments, of requiring the Treasury Department to enforce the penalties for violations of a law and of regu

« PreviousContinue »