HC Deb 19 February 1914 vol 58 cc1151-3W

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been called to the circumstances relating to the capture and seizure at Hodeidah, on the 10th May, 1912, of the British steamship "Clumberhall," belonging to the West Hartlepool Steam Navigation Company, Limited, whilst proceeding in ballast from Liverpool to Bombay to load under charter party for Marseilles; whether he is aware that the vessel whilst proceeding through the Bed Sea became disabled in consequence of a sudden and serious leakage in one of her boilers, which necessitated the vessel proceeding to an anchorage off Hodeidah Roads in order to effect repairs; that immediately after coming to anchor she was boarded by officers from the Italian cruiser "Piemonte," and after an inspection of the damaged boiler the captain was ordered to move his vessel further inshore where the damage was repaired, and she was subsequently taken by the Italians to Masso-wah where she arrived on the 14th May, and was detained there whilst the Italians searched the vessel for contraband of war, which they pretended she was carrying, but failing to discover any trace of same the vessel was released on the 29th May; that owing to the detention the owners lost their charter from Bombay, and the vessel had to be fixed elsewhere, involving a loss to the owners of over £5,000; that the owners put forward a claim for compensation against the Italian Government, and such claim was rejected by the Italian Prize Court, which decided that the vessel was lawfully seized and detained; whether the two French steamers, namely, steamships "Carthage" and "Manouba," were arrested by Italian cruisers in January, 1912, the "Carthage" at the time carrying an aeroplane consigned to Tunis, and the "Manouba" having on board a large number of Turkish passengers; if, despite these facts, which possibly show colourable justification for the arrest of these two steamers, the French Government insisted on the claims of their owners being referred to the Arbitration Tribunal at The Hague, and that the owners of the vessels were awarded substantial damages against the Italian Government; whether the owners of the "Clumberhall" have requested His Majesty's Government to take action to recover compensation for the loss which they have sustained in the circumstances described; if so, when such request was so made; and what steps His Majesty's Government have taken or propose to take in the matter?


As the hon. Member-is aware, the case of the "Clumberhall," particulars as to which are correctly given in the earlier part of the question, has engaged the serious attention of His Majesty's Government, and has formed the subject of a lengthy correspondence with him. The vessel was seized on the date-mentioned in the question and was subsequently released by the Italian Government upon the urgent representations; made to them through His Majesty's Embassy at Borne. The claim put forward by the owners was referred to the Italian Prize Court. I am aware that the cases of the French mail steamers "Carthage" and "Manouba" were referred to arbitration by agreement between the French and Italian Governments, but, as in these cases there was no question of breach of blockade, they bear no analogy to that of the "Clumberhall." The action of the Italian Government in bringing the case of the "Clumberhall" before a Prize Court accords with the view upon which His Majesty's Government would themselves act in the event of this country being engaged in war. Representation were made to the Italian Government for compensation in respect of the undue detention of the ship. The Italian Government declined to entertain the claim, on the ground that, in accordance with the judgment of the Prize Court, which was based on accepted principles of International Law, the ship was guilty of breach of blockade, and therefore liable to confiscation. Her release was granted in de-ferenee to the representations of His Majesty's Government, and as a matter of grace only. I am, therefore, not in a position to pursue the matter any further. The natural remedy for such cases should lie in an appeal from a National to an International Prize Tribunal, as contemplated by The Hague Prize Court Convention. The non-existence of such a tribunal is a regrettable circumstance, for which His Majesty's Government cannot be held responsible.