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U.S. court orders N. Korea to pay US$2.3 bln over 1968 capture of USS Pueblo

All News 06:25 February 26, 2021

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 (Yonhap) -- A federal district court has ordered North Korea to pay over US$2 billion in damages to the crew and family of a U.S. naval ship captured in 1968, court documents released this week showed.

In its Feb. 16 ruling, the U.S. District Court for D.C. found North Korea was responsible for the kidnapping of the USS Pueblo, as well as the imprisonment and torture of its crew members.

"This case arises from the kidnapping, imprisonment, and torture of United States servicemen aboard the USS Pueblo ("Pueblo") by agents of the government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea ("North Korea") in 1968," says the court's opinion, posted on the court's website on Wednesday.

"In granting the plaintiffs' motion for default judgment on liability, the Court concluded that North Korea was liable to the plaintiffs under this provision and its incorporated theories of assault, battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, solatium, and wrongful death," it added.

The U.S. Navy spy ship was captured by North Korea in January 1968 while disguised as a marine research vessel. The Navy insists the ship was in international waters at the time of the incident.

All but one of its 83 crew members, who was killed, were released 11 months later in December, but had been mentally and physically abused during their captivity.

The ship's 49 surviving crew members and their family members, as well as those of deceased crew members, sought damages for "personal injury or death caused by acts of torture and hostage taking."

The court said a "special master," appointed by the government to help assess damages, recommended a baseline compensation of $3.35 million for each crew member.

"The Court accepts this baseline recommendation," it said.

Each surviving crew member of USS Pueblo was awarded damages of between $22 million and $48 million, while about 100 family members have also been awarded damages of slightly smaller sums.

In total, the court ruling orders North Korea to pay some $2.3 billion.

The court decision, however, will likely remain symbolic as Pyongyang rarely concedes, let alone reacts, to foreign court orders.

In 2019, the U.S. District Court for D.C. ordered North Korea to pay $500 million in damages to the parents of a U.S. student, Otto Warmbier, who died in 2017, six days after he returned home following his release from captivity in North Korea.

North Korea has yet to even acknowledge the court ruling.

North Korea also continues to keep the Pueblo, which it has turned into a museum.

This undated file photo shows the U.S. intelligence ship Pueblo moored along the Potong River in Pyongyang. (Yonhap)

bdk@yna.co.kr
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