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The Paquete Habana

    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.


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