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Blinded in attack from Iran, seaman awarded $1 million

January 6, 2006

By David Lyons, Herald Business Writer
The Miami Herald

A Philippine seaman, blinded by an Iranian missile attack on his ship in Kuwaiti waters, was awarded $1.2 million by a federal judge in Miami in Friday, 14 months after he sued the Tehran government for damages.

Now the trick is to collect it.

Victorino Gonzaga, 34, was a lookout on the reflagged Kuwaiti tanker Sea Isle City when the vessel was struck by a Chinese-made Silk-worm missile. Eighteen people, including the ship’s American captain, were wounded in the October 16, 1987 attack.

Besides granting the $1.2 million for Gonzaga, U.S. District Judge Thomas Scott awarded $500,000 to the seaman’s wife, Lucita. The couple lives in the Philippines with their two children.

Miami attorney Charles Lipcon filed the suit on the family’s behalf after Gonzaga was brought to South Florida for treatment at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.

The suit also named the Kuwait Tanker Co., Kuwait Petroleum Corp., Gleneagle Ship Management Co. Inc. and Chesapeake Shipping, Inc. They were the vessels owners and operators.

The suit alleged that the firms allowed the vessel to sail unprotected into a “known war zone, which represented a high degree of risk of armed attack from Iran.”

At the time, Iran was embroiled in the war with Iraq that ended last year.

Lipcon said he reached an out-of-court settlement with the companies for $725,000. Michael Moore, and attorney for the firms agreed that a deal had been reached but refused to confirm the amount.

Moore said his clients still claim the court in Miami had no jurisdiction because the events occurred half way around the world.

Lipcon conceded it would be difficult to collect from the Iranians. The United States has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since the hostage crises in 1979-80.

None of the Iranian government’s representatives appeared in court, even though Lipcon served papers through three different channels.

Lipcon said he is exploring a number of possibilities to recover the money due the Gonzagas.

“I understand Iran has several lawsuits going in the U.S.”, Lipcon said. “If they win, we can garnish the award.” Another way to go is to a third country such as Germany, that by treaty enforces legal judgments awarded by American courts.

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