THE PAQUETE HABANA, 175 U. S. 677 (1900)

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U.S. Supreme Court

The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677 (1900)

The Paquete Habana

Nos. 895-896

Argued November 7-8, 1899

Decided January 8, 1900

175 U.S. 677 (1900)


Under the Act of Congress of March 3, 1891, c. 517, this Court has jurisdiction of appeals from all final sentences and decrees in prize causes, without regard to the amount in dispute and without any certificate of the district judge as to the importance of the particular case.

International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination. For this purpose, where there is no treaty and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations, and, as evidence of these, to the works of jurists and commentators, not for the speculations of their authors concerning what the law ought to be, but for trustworthy evidence of what the law really is.

At the present day, by the general consent of the civilized nations of the world and independently of any express treaty or other public act, it is an established rule of international law that coast fishing vessels, with their implements and supplies, cargoes and crews, unarmed and honestly pursuing their peaceful calling of catching and bringing in fresh fish, are exempt from capture as prize of war. And this rule is one which prize courts, administering the law of nations, are bound to take judicial notice of, and to give effect to, in the absence of any treaty or other public act of their own government in relation to the matter.

At the breaking out of the recent war with Spain, two fishing smacks -- the one a sloop, 43 feet long on the keel and of 25 tons burden, and with a crew of three men, and the other a schooner, 51 feet long on the keel and of 35 tons burden, and with a crew of six men -- were regularly engaged in fishing on the coast of Cuba, sailing under the Spanish flag, and each owned by a Spanish subject, residing in Havana; her crew, who also resided there, had no interest in the vessel, but were entitled to shares, amounting in all to two thirds, of her catch, the other third belonging to her owner, and her cargo consisted of fresh fish, caught by her crew from the sea, put on board as they were caught, and kept and sold alive. Each vessel left Havana on a coast fishing voyage, and sailed along the coast of Cuba about two hundred miles to the west end of the island; the sloop there fished for twenty-five days in the territorial waters of Spain, and the schooner extended her fishing trip a hundred

Page 175 U. S. 678

miles farther across the Yucatan Channel, and fished for eight days on the coast of Yucatan. On her return, with her cargo of live fish, along the coast of Cuba, and when near Havana, each was captured by one of the United States blockading squadron. Neither fishing vessel had any arms or ammunition on board, had any knowledge of the blockade, or even of the war, until she was stopped by a blockading vessel, made any attempt to run the blockade, or any resistance at the time of her capture, nor was there any evidence that she, or her crew, was likely to aid the enemy. Held that both captures were unlawful, and without probable cause.

The cases are stated in the opinion of the Court.

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