WASHINGTON — Iraq has agreed to pay $27.3 million in compensation to the families of 37 crew members killed when an Iraqi warplane attacked the U.S. Navy frigate Stark in 1987 in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. government announced Tuesday.
State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said the payment represents "full compensation" for the deaths. Although Iraq admitted responsibility and agreed to pay damages at the time of the attack, it took almost two years of haggling to fix the amount.
The Pentagon said that two additional claims, for injuries suffered by 21 crew members and for repairs to the guided missile frigate, have yet to be settled.
A Defense Department spokeswoman would not say how much Iraq has been asked to pay toward the Pentagon's cost for repairing the ship, estimated at more than $80 million, nor would she say how much is being sought to compensate the injured sailors.
Although the pay-out averages $739,200 per family, not all of the families will receive that much. The Pentagon said that the money will be distributed on the basis of a formula estimating the likely future lifetime earning capacity of each victim and the extent to which family members were dependent upon the victim for support. The formula includes such factors as age, number of dependents, education and time in service.
G. Robert Quick, the father of one of the victims, Kelly R. Quick, 20, of Swartz Creek, Mich., praised the U.S. efforts to win payment.
"I think they did all they could to get what they could from Iraq," he said. "I haven't seen how they're going to divide it up, though."
'Nothing Can Replace My Son'
Roland Bolduc, father of Doran Hilaire Bolduc, 29, of Lacey, Wash., said: "I don't have any opinion about the amount. I just know that nothing can replace my son."
The compensation agreement for families of the dead was hammered out during negotiations this week in Baghdad. Washington originally wanted $29.6 million for the families. The U.S. team was led by Abraham Sofaer, the State Department's legal counsel.
An Iraqi pilot, flying a French-built Mirage warplane, hit the Stark with two French-made Exocet missiles on May 17, 1987. The Iraqi government said that the pilot mistook the ship for an Iranian tanker; the Navy said the Stark did not take proper defensive action because it considered the Iraqi plane to be friendly.
The attack was followed by a stepped-up level of alert for Navy vessels in the gulf. When the Navy began in the summer of 1987 to escort re-flagged Kuwaiti tankers through the war zone, the ships' captains treated both Iraqi and Iranian planes as potential threats.
Some captains complained privately that Iraqi warplanes regularly fired at "blips" on radar screens without making sure of the identification of their targets.
The Stark case parallels the accidental destruction of an Iranian civilian airliner by the U.S. guided missile cruiser Vincennes last summer. Then-President Ronald Reagan offered to pay compensation for the dead, but only as an act of charity. He said the United States would not accept legal responsibility for the tragedy because the Iranian airliner had strayed into a war zone. Iran has refused to accept compensation on that basis.