296 External Affairs Department to Bruce

Cablegram 9583 CANBERRA, 12 October 1943

Your 180. [1] You should inform United Kingdom Committee at once that exclusion of these so-called merchant seamen is entirely due to security considerations which all competent military authorities here regarded as vital.

2. A close check has been made by the Intelligence Services of qualifications and records of these men. It has been ascertained that every one of them is a deep sea diver so that their release would be a source of incalculable benefit to the Japanese war effort in salvaging operations. In the light of Japanese shipping losses this aspect is of vital importance.

3. Both Security and Military Intelligence Services are emphatic that these men should on no account be released. A similar view has been expressed by the Admiralty reporting officers here.

4. The proposed exchange is a continuation of the first as regards areas only. The character of the personnel is quite different, and Japan never raised the question of seamen previously. In our view it has been raised for the express purpose of getting back these deep sea divers. Japanese Government has already been advised that seamen had to be treated as prisoners of war and not as ordinary internees.

5. Further, as far back as 15th January, we raised the question of these men in regard to repatriation so that we should have a clear understanding, vide my 524. [2] In reply your 1911 of 1st March [3] definitely stated War Office view was that they should be regarded as prisoners of war and not be eligible for repatriation.

6. We would be glad to be informed whether you have been made aware of the facts stated in this message and also whether you have indicated that you are making the recommendation referred to in the last sentence of your telegram. [4] If you cannot attend the Committee meetings Dr. Evatt suggests that Stirling should go as he is fully aware of our policy and special difficulties.

1 Document 294.

2 FA:A3196, 1943, 0.1537.

3 FA:A3195, 1943, 1.9901.

4 Bruce replied the same day that although he had understood that the Commonwealth Govt objected to the inclusion of the Japanese seamen he had not been aware of the grounds of objection in detail until he read paragraphs 2 and 3 of cablegram 9583; he also pointed out that the U.K. Admiralty had no security objection to the return of the seamen. See cablegram 10101 on file AA:M100, October 1943.

On 13 October Bruce cabled further: 'I have taken matter up with United Kingdom and made the points included in your telegram. An urgent examination of further information contained in paragraphs 3 and 4 is being made and United Kingdom have promised to let me have their views immediately.' See cablegram 185A on the file cited above in this note.

[AA:A989, 43/460/10/2, ii]