U.S. takes 13 French ships into custody (5-16-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (May 16, 1941)


Move is made just after Senate passes measure authorizing seizures
By Frank McNaughton, United Press staff writer

Washington, May 16 –
Congress was expected to give final approval today to the ship seizure bill allowing President Roosevelt to use as he sees fit more than 100 idle foreign ships, including 13 French vessels taken into protective custody by the Coast Guard last night.

President Roosevelt will sign the bill at once, making it law. The Senate passed the bill yesterday, 59–20, and it was returned to the House for action on Senate amendments.

Passage had been expected early next week. But President Roosevelt’s appeal to the French people to resist collaboration with Germany and the boarding of the French vessels by Coast Guardsmen last night, caused many Congressmen to want to push it through today.

Normandie boarded

The Guardsmen boarded 13 French ships in New York, New Orleans, San Pedro, Calif., San Francisco, and St. Thomas, V.I. Among those in New York Harbor was the $80-million, 81,000-ton liner Normandie, tied up there since the war started. It is the second largest ship in the world. Some shipping men thought it might be used as a military transport by Great Britain when the ship seizure bill is enacted.

Officials indicated that sabotage – the reason for the seizure of German and Italian ships – was not involved in the case of French vessels. They said the action was merely one of “protection.” But it was also the preliminary step to action that had been planned as soon as the ship seizure bill is enacted.

Final work in Congress on the ship bill was expected by elimination of the threat of isolationists to attempt attaching an anti-convoy amendment to it.

Convoy question fades

The convoy question appeared to be fading as an immediate issue with word from a responsible administration leader that Mr. Roosevelt believes Congress would refuse to sanction convoys at this time and that he will not ask authority to undertake them.

It was believed he would not order outright convoy operations without Congressional approval. From other sources, it was indicated that Mr. Roosevelt’s extended Atlantic patrol and other protective devices against German raiders were working out well and may ease the whole convoy issue.

Congressional isolationists contemplate no further effort to test convoy sentiment at least until after the President’s May 27 fireside chat. They may let that occasion pass unless they regard Mr. Roosevelt’s language as too belligerent. He will make his first public appearance since May 6 at a press conference today.

Ban on transfer defeated

Senate efforts to amend the ship seizure bill to prevent transfer of seized vessels of one belligerent power to another were defeated 43–38. But the Senate did exempt from requisition under the bill vessels owned directly by a foreign government. It is understood that only one or two of the 100-odd idle foreign ships in American ports are actually owned by the governments whose flags they fly.

If the administration wants that minor amendment removed, the bill will have to go to conference between the House and Senate. If not, then final action could be taken immediately.

The Maritime Commission is especially interested in 84 of the idle vessels, including two of German, 28 of Italian and the rest of Danish registry, which were taken under protective custody March 30. They had been sabotaged and are being repaired. The first of the German-Italian lot will be ready for service within a month and all will be ready for operation by the end of November.

State Department officials said the seized ships would not be used outside the Western hemisphere. But reliable Maritime Commission sources said every one of the 84 vessels would be taken over and that most would be turned over to the British or put into services on behalf of the British in waters outside this hemisphere. An effort will be made to purchase the vessels and if that fails the commission will take them over by condemnation under authority of the ship seizure bill.

The Danish vessels could remain under the Danish flag and operate with their Danish crews. Then they would be available for service into combat zones from which American flag ships are barred.

It was understood that the seized Axis vessels would be put under the American flag. They would be barred from combat zones but could serve the British, by carrying goods from South America to United States ports for trans-shipment or by operating to the Red Sea which recently was opened to American ships by presidential order.

Also included in foreign shipping that will be made available by the bill are 19 Yugoslav vessels, one Belgian, one Lithuanian and one Romanian.