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In the Voyager episode "Message in a Bottle", the Romulans manage to steal the top-secret ship Prometheus, but fortunately Starfleet retrieves it thanks to the efforts of the Doctor.

First, how did they manage to steal it?

Second, what was the aftermath of their actions? I would think stealing a ship is an act of war. It seems to me the Federation let them get away with anything and just laugh it off and forgive them. If I were Federation President the Treaty of Algeron would have been scrapped.

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    So if you were the President of the Federation, you'd have plunged the entire Federation into war because a ship was stolen--smart... – Lèse majesté Aug 19 '13 at 7:28
  • If Section 31 had stolen the Scimitar would the Romulans sit idley by? – user16416 Aug 19 '13 at 8:41
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    Probably not, but the Romulans are intelligent enough to know that there are better alternatives to the blunt instrument of war, and if war is desirable, make the other side declare it (and preferably on someone else). Section 31 and the Tal Shiar are just two examples. And the Romulans didn't declare war when Starfleet crossed the neutral zone, stole their prototype cloaking device and kidnapped the ship's Romulan commander. – Lèse majesté Aug 19 '13 at 11:02
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    If you're going to play spy games, such as destroying a Romulan senator and inserting a mole in the Continuing Committee or outright blowing up a Romulan diplomatic convoy with a Romulan senator on it, then you don't go declaring war just because a ship was stolen. War isn't a trifling thing. – Lèse majesté Aug 19 '13 at 11:09
  • well at least at the end of the day they failed – user16416 Aug 25 '13 at 6:50
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Such shenanigans aren't exactly uncommon between nation-states here on Earth. Why would space in the 24th century be any different? You'll recall that Kirk and Spock's successful theft of an improved Romulan cloaking device in TOS Season 3 episode The Enterprise Incident didn't provoke a war between the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire.

It seems likely that both sides simply chalked the incident up to a failed espionage attempt by the Romulans, shrugged their shoulders and continued business as usual. The Federation certainly needed to avoid an open conflict with the Romulans at a time when the Dominion and Cardassians were on the move, with potential problems with the Klingons as well. Sometimes in geopolitics you need to simply suck it up when your neighbours pull an outrageous stunt, because making an issue of it would cause more damage than simply ignoring the issue.

Look at the fallout in Europe from the recent revelations of American spying released by Edward Snowden for a real life example. Several European nations were angry and demanded an explanation, but they haven't left NATO, they haven't declared war and they haven't broken relations with the US. The attempted theft of Prometheus by the Romulans would seem to fall into a similar category.

As for how the Romulans stole the ship, that I couldn't tell you. It's been far too long since I've seen that episode. I'm not sure we're ever actually told how.

  • The comparisons between NATO and the Federation vs. The Romulan Empire aren't really comparable not just because it's sci-fi but because I mean doing a spy mission vs. Stealing stuff and blowing up stuff I think if that were to happen there would be some sort of response between nations – user63377 Mar 16 '16 at 23:31
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The episode gives us precious little information about how the Romulans were able to take over the Prometheus. There are a few things we can glean though:

  • The ship was boarded and the crew killed in a gunfight. Most likely the Prometheus had its shields down while conducting shakedown trials (or while receiving the Doctor's program) and the Romulans seized an opportunity to decloak and beam over before shields could be raised.

EMH: Try to lie still. You have severe phaser burns. What happened here?

OFFICER: Romulans. They've taken over the ship.

  • The ship is an experimental vessel, conducting tests just inside Federation space (.11 of a light year to be precise). While fleeing, the Romulans face a Federation starship which fires upon them without attempting to hail. It's very likely that the crew of the Prometheus were able to get off some sort of distress signal.

REKAR: Conduct your scans. How far are we from our border?

NEVALA: At our present velocity [warp nine point nine], forty minutes.

  • The Romulan crew are acting on direct orders from the Romulan Star Empire's Military Command. This means that the taking of the vessel, within Federation Space absolutely 100% constitutes an act of war. This wasn't a target of opportunity, it was pre-planned.

REKAR: There's been a change of plans. We're giving this ship to someone who'll make full use of it's potential. The Tal'Shiar. I've made arrangements to rendezvous with their fleet within the hour.


As to why this incident didn't result in all-out war against the Romulans, you need to be aware that this all takes place against the backdrop of the Dominion war. If anything, the Romulans are probably emboldened to undertake these sorts of risky operations knowing that the Federation dare not antagonise them in case they side with the Dominion against the Federation.

EMH: I'm afraid you don't have that luxury. There are two ships at stake here, yours and mine. Now, I need to know more about what's happening. Is the Federation at war with the Romulans?

EMH2: No. The Romulans haven't gotten involved in our fight with the Dominion.

  • Regarding your second bullet point... They weren't deep inside Federation space, they were on the edge of it - 40 minutes to the border is very close. If you were testing out a cutting-edge prototype, you wouldn't do it in the heart of the Federation where potentially millions of people could see it (passing freighters, scientific instruments, etc). – T.J.L. Mar 17 '16 at 12:45
  • @T.J.L. - You're right. They were over an hour from the Romulan border (40 mins at the time of asking, but the ship had been under Romulan control for some time before that) at the highest warp factor that the Federation are capable to getting to, Warp 9.9). That puts them 0.114 lightyears inside the border. – Valorum Mar 17 '16 at 12:55

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