A US federal court has awarded $2.3 billion in damages to several crew members of the USS Pueblo and their surviving families, more than 50 years after North Korea seized the American naval vessel and took its crew hostage.
More than 100 crew members and their relatives filed a suit against North Korea in February 2018 in a federal court under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which allows victims to sue state sponsors of terrorism for torture, hostage-taking, personal injury, or death.
The award is among the enormous sums ever handed out in a state-sponsored terrorism case, the attorneys representing the plaintiffs said in a statement Thursday.
Mark Bravin, the lead attorney for the victims, called the judgment a “tremendous result.”
“I think all of the plaintiffs will be very, very happy,” said Bravin, who started working on the case about six years ago.”It has been a long process.”
The plaintiffs were allowed to sue after former US President Donald Trump named North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism in 2017, reopening the window to litigation against Pyongyang under the 1976 Act. North Korea had been removed from the list in 2008 by then-President George W Bush.
However, it remains unclear how the damages could be recovered from North Korea. Pyongyang was not represented in the case and has long accused the Pueblo and its crew of illegally spying in North Korean territorial waters when it was captured.
The Pueblo is technically still a commissioned ship in the US Navy, but since 2013 North Korea has used it as a tourist attraction and propaganda museum in Pyongyang.
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Bravin said that because of the ruling, the plaintiffs would be able to successfully apply for an award from the Justice for United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Act, a fund set up by Congress to support victims of terrorism.
While it may take some time to get a substantial portion of the award given by the courts, Bravin said victims could start collecting compensation “as early as next year.”
Previous cases have been brought against North Korea for the Pueblo incident.
In 2008, three crew members, William Thomas Massie, Dunnie Richard Tuck, and Donald Raymond McClarren, and Rose Bucher, wife of the Pueblo’s late commander, Lloyd Bucher, brought suit.
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