1941: New Zealand seizes barque Pamir

Evening Post, 9 August 1941, p 10

The Finnish four-masted barque Pamir entering Wellington Heads
The Finnish four-masted barque Pamir entering Wellington Heads. Evening Post photo


The Finnish barque Pamir, which arrived at Wellington recently, has been seized as a prize. This is the first event of the kind to take place in New Zealand.

A public notice on the subject is published in the Wellington newspapers today, setting out a Supreme Court writ served against the ship.

The Acting Prime Minister, Mr Nash, said today that the ship was seized in prize by the Customs authorities in Wellington, acting in concert with the Government of the United Kingdom and other Governments of the British Commonwealth. It is understood that similar steps are being taken elsewhere in respect of Finnish vessels.

According to prize law, said Mr Nash, the ship and her cargo passed into the custody of the Supreme Court, and applications to the Court relative to the disposal of the property in question will be made in due course. It is understood that an application relating to the cargo is now pending. The cargo consists of guano loaded in the Seychelles Islands. The vessel, although owned in Finland, was under charter to a British company.

The prize jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is one of considerable interest and antiquity, but has rarely been exercised in Australia or New Zealand. One case, affecting an Italian steamer, arose in the Supreme Court of Western Australia. The present is the first occasion on which the Supreme Court of New Zealand has been called upon to exercise its jurisdiction in prize.

The Pamir is a steel four-masted barque of 2799 tons, built in Hamburg in 1905 by the well-known engineering firm of Blohm and Voss. She is one of the handsomest ships in the fleet of Captain G Erikson, of Mariehamn, Finland, who owns nearly all the remaining sailing vessels of any size afloat. She is the first large sailing ship to visit Wellington since 1924, when the 1215 tons barque Hesperian called here. Her commander is Captain V Bjorkfelt.


An exposition of the law relating to seizure of ships was given by the Attorney-General (Mr Mason), when he pointed out that the law of war relating to property at sea was in sharp contrast to that governing property on land.

“Property at sea,” said Mr Mason, “is liable to capture by enemy action, whereas property on land is not liable to capture, though it may be requisitioned for military purposes. By international law and agreement, however, the rule is that the owner must be compensated.


“Right to seizure does not in any way arise under Imperial legislation, or other legislation,” said Mr Mason. “It arises as an immemorial right of war; it arises from the law of nations. But by international law the seizure does not transfer the property in a ship. The ship must be brought before a prize court, which is held in the capital of the country of capture. This prize court really may be said to administer the international law, for it is under that law that the ship is condemned by the court as a prize. The judgment of the court is recognised by the family of nations. That is to say, the transfer of property in the ship, completed by the judgment of the prize court, is recognised thereafter by the nations of the world. It does, however, require the decision of such a court before the seizure of the property in the ship arising from the capture would be recognised outside the domestic jurisdiction of the country by which the ship was captured.


“When ships are seized at sea,” continued Mr Mason, “prize money is paid by the Crown to the crew of the capturing ship, but that of course is entirely a matter between the Government and the Navy. The paying of this prize money is of course a very ancient institution, but the details have been altered from time to time. Presumably, no question of this kind arises when the ship is in harbour.

“There is another right to seize ships in war which is rather interesting, but quite different from taking as a prize. It is a right called the right of angary, namely, to seize ships of neutrals either permanently or temporarily and impress them for purposes of war. In such a case owners have to be compensated for their loss. It is not in any way akin to forfeiture, and may be better compared with the taking of land under the Public Works Act for public purposes. The interesting point about it, however, is it extends not merely to the ships on the register of the country exercising the power, but to ships of other nations that may happen to be within the territorial waters of the nation exercising the power. This is also quite an ancient right and is said to have been frequently exercised by Louis XIV of France.”