The sinking of I’m Alone

I'm Alone at sea. I'm Alone at sea © Trinity Historical Society Archives

For the week of March 18, 2020.

On March 22, 1929, the United States Coast Guard sank the rum-running vessel, I’m Alone, in the Gulf of Mexico. This ship, registered in Nova Scotia, had been smuggling alcohol into the United States during the period of American Prohibition (1920–1933). 

At the time, prohibition laws in the United States forbade the production, sale, exportation, and importation of alcohol, although private consumption continued. By contrast, all Canadian provinces, except for Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, had replaced earlier prohibition laws with liquor controls by 1929.

Many rum-runners crossed into the United States by means of southern Ontario, which had long been an important centre of the distilling industry. Smugglers also illegally imported alcohol into the United States from the French islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, off the coast of Newfoundland, where there were no prohibition laws. For its part, the rum-running vessel I’m Alone had been transporting alcohol from British Honduras (today, Belize) to Louisiana before its sinking in 1929.

The sinking of I’m Alone provoked a diplomatic crisis between Canada and the United States. At its core, the dispute was about whether the U.S. Coast Guard was within its rights in pursuing and sinking the vessel. For example, Vincent Massey, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, argued that the ship was sailing far from the coast, beyond the reach of the U.S. Coast Guard. According to a treaty signed by Britain and the United States in 1924, American authorities had the right to board British vessels suspected of rum-running, provided they were within a “one-hour” distance from the coast. In 1935, the Joint Commission tasked with resolving the dispute ruled that the Coast Guard had violated international law in sinking the vessel and the United States government paid damages.

Charles Vincent Massey, a designated national historic person, later served as Canadian High Commissioner to London, chair of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences, and governor general of Canada.

 

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