President Franklin Delano Roosevelt: A Message to the Congress Asking Power to Requisition Idle Foreign Ships in American Waters. April 10, 1941

To the Congress: There are now in our ports a large number of foreign merchant vessels which have been here for considerable periods of time and which because of war conditions have not seen fit to depart.

Section 902 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, as amended by the Act of August 7, 1939, authorizes the Maritime Commission, whenever the President shall proclaim that the security of the national defense makes it advisable or during any national emergency declared by proclamation, to requisition or purchase any vessel or other watercraft owned by citizens of the United States, or under construction within the United States, or to requisition or charter the use of any such property, and provides that the owner thereof shall be paid just compensation for the property taken or for its use. The same section provides a method by which compensation shall be determined. There does not appear to be any comparable provision with respect to foreign-owned vessels lying idle in our ports.

In view of the growing shortage of available tonnage suited to our national needs, I am satisfied, after consultation with the heads of the interested departments and agencies of the Government, that we should have statutory authority to take over any such vessels as our needs may require, subject, of course, to the payment of just compensation.

It is obvious that our own ultimate defense will be rendered futile if the growing shortage of shipping facilities is not arrested. It is also obvious that inability to remove accumulating materials from our ports can only result in stoppage of production with attendant unemployment and suspension of production contracts.

It is therefore essential, both to our defense plans and to our domestic economy, that we shall not permit the continuance of the immobilization in our harbors of shipping facilities. I attach as of possible assistance to the Congress a draft resolution designed to accomplish the purposes above outlined. It will be noted that the draft contemplates the use of funds appropriated by the "Defense Aid Supplemental Appropriation Act, 1941," approved March 27, 1941.

Note: On June 6, 1941, the President approved an Act passed pursuant to the foregoing request authorizing the Maritime Commission to requisition or otherwise acquire idle ships in American waters. Under the Act (55 Stat. 242), virtually all of the foreign vessels requisitioned by the United States were taken over prior to the entry of the United States into the war; a few were taken over in the early months after Pearl Harbor.

Source: The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Compiled with Special Material and Explanatory Notes by Samuel I. Rosenman, Volume 10 The call to battle stations, New York: Russell & Russell, 1938-1950

President Franklin D. Roosevelt Speeches and Statements
Foreign Ships Taken Over

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