Rahul Sharma (Editor)

The Paquete Habana

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Subsequent history

End date

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Full case name
Paquete Habana.; The Lola.

175 U.S. 677 (more) 20 S. Ct. 290; 44 L. Ed. 320; 1900 U.S. LEXIS 1714

Prior history
Appeals From the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of Florida

Gray, joined by Brewer, Brown, Shiras, White, Peckham

Fuller, joined by Harlan, McKenna

Ruling court
Supreme Court of the United States

Filártiga v Peña‑Irala, Sosa v Alvarez‑Machain, North Sea Continental Shelf cases, Medellín v Texas, Lotus case

Paquete Habana.; The Lola, 175 U.S. 677 (1900), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case that reversed an earlier court decision allowing the capture of fishing vessels under Prize. Its importance rests on the fact that it integrated Customary international law with American law, perhaps the quintessential position of those who hold a monist perspective of international law.


Background of the case

In April 1898 two fishing vessels, the Paquete Habana and the Lola, separately left Cuban ports in Havana in order to fish. The two vessels were eventually captured by US merchant vessels as part of Admiral William T. Sampson's blockade of Cuba, who was ordered to execute the blockade 'in pursuance of the laws of the United States, and the law of nations applicable to such cases.' The vessels were placed within Cuba's territorial waters at the onset of the Spanish–American War and then taken to Key West, where both vessels were eventually auctioned by the district court. Both vessels were valued under the price of $2,000(US) and were thus not originally thought to be exempt from seizure.

Admiral Sampson justified the seizures by stating that most fishing vessels, flying under the Spanish banner were manned by excellent seamen, "liable for further service" as naval reserves, an asset that could eventually be used against US interests in the Spanish-American War.

The owners of the vessels however made an appeal to the circuit courts, citing a long held tradition by nations of exempting fishing vessels from prize capture in times of war. This "tradition", a primary example of customary international law, dates back from an order by Henry IV in 1403, and has more or less been observed by a large majority of States ever since.

At the time of capture both vessels had no evidence of aiding the enemy, and were unaware of the US naval blockade. No arms were found on board, and no attempts were made to either run the blockade or resist capture.

The court's decision and merits

The United States Supreme Court cited lengthy legal precedents established to support the existence of a customary international law that exempted fishing vessels from prize capture, dating all the way back to ancient times and occurring repeatedly between Great Britain and France. In 1403, King Henry IV of England issued his officers leave fisherman alone during times of war. He then signed a treaty with France reaffirming this act between both parties. Again in 1521 between Emperor Charles V and Francis I of France a treaty was assigned. This treaty was invoked due to a desperate rise in the markets for herring. With the war between the two countries raging on, fisherman dared not venture out to sea. Therefore, a treaty was necessary on both accounts to prevent starvation among those who relied upon cheap herring, namely the lower classes. Situations similar to this continued to crop up throughout history prior to the Paquete case. Using this as a basis for customary law, the court then eventually found the capture of both vessels as "unlawful and without probable cause", reversed the District Court's decision, and ordered the proceeds of the auction as well as any profits made from her cargo to be restored to the claimant, "with damages and costs".

Fuller's dissent

Justice Fuller delivered a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Harlan and McKenna.


The Paquete Habana Wikipedia