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PAQUETE HAVANA

Brief Fact Summary. The argument of the fishermen whose vessels was seized by the
U.S (P) officials was that international law exempted coastal fishermen from capture as
prizes of war.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. The argument of the fishermen whose vessels was seized
by the U.S (P) officials was that international law exempted coastal fishermen from
capture as prizes of war.

Facts. This appeal of a district court decree, which condemned two fishing vessels and
their cargoes as prizes of war, was brought by the owners (D) of two separate fishing
vessels. Each of the vessel running in and out of Havana and sailing under the Spanish
flag was a fishing smack which regularly engaged in fishing on the coast of Cuba. Inside
the
vessels
were
fresh
fish
which
the
crew
had
caught.
The owners of the vessels were not aware of the existence of a war until they were
stopped by U.S. (P) squadron. No incriminating material like arms were found on the
fishermen and they did not make any attempt to run the blockade after learning of its
existence not did they resist their arrest. When the owners (D) appealed, they argued
that both customary international law and writings of leading international scholars
recognized an exemption from seizure at wartime of coastal fishing vessels.
Issue. Are coastal fishing vessels with their cargoes and crews excluded from prizes of
war?
Held. (Gray, J.). Yes. Coastal fishing vessels with their cargoes and crews are excluded
from prizes of war. The doctrine that exempts coastal fishermen with their vessels and
crews from capture as prizes of war has been known by the U.S. (P) from the time of
the War of Independence and has been recognized explicitly by the French and British
governments. It is an established rule of international law that coastal fishing
vessels with their equipment and supplies, cargoes and crews, unarmed and
honestly pursuing their peaceful calling of catching and bringing in fish are
exempt from capture as prizes of war. Reversed.
Discussion. Chief Justice Fuller who had a dissenting opinion which was not
published in this casebook argued that the captured vessels were of such a size and
range as to not fall within the exemption. He further argued that the exemption in any
case had not become a customary rule of international law, but was only an act of
grace that had not been authorized by the President.

The Paquete Habana


175 U.S. 677 (1900)
During the Spanish American War, the US Navy boarded two private fishing
vessels flying the Spanish flag, and captured them as prizes of war.
o One of the vessels was named The Paquete Habana.
The owners of the vessels sued in US courts to regain their property.
o They argued that customary international law said that fishing vessels
were exempt from being captured in war.
They were commercial fishermen, they were not a military target.
The US Supreme Court found that the fishing vessels could not be taken as
prizes of war.
o The US Supreme Court found that there was no specific US law defining
a prize of war.
o However, the Court found that customary international law exempted
fishing vessels from being taken as prizes of war.
o There are a number of factors that determine if something is customary
international law. In this case, the Court found that:
There was State practice by a number of different countries that
commercial fishing vessels were exempt.
There was repetition of the practice over time.
There was opinio juris that commercial fishing vessels were
exempt.
Opinio juris is a subjective element that is used to judge
whether the practice of a state is due to a belief that it is
legally obliged to do a particular act.

This case lays out the important factors that courts use to determine if
something has become customary international law.
o Customary international law can be thought of as a kind of
international common law. It is something that's not explicitly defined
anywhere, but everyone just agrees to it