SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that ten Alaskan seafood processing companies are entitled to $12.4 million out of $5 billion in punitive damages awarded as compensation for the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a federal judge's decision to exclude the region's largest seafood processors from the punitive damages awarded by a jury in the aftermath of the Prince William Sound oil spill.

The processors entitled are Icicle Seafoods Inc.; Seven Seas Corp.; Ocean Beauty Seafoods Inc.; Ocean Beauty Alaska Inc.; Wards Cove Packing Co.; Alaska Boat Co.; North Pacific Processors; Trident Seafoods Corp.; North Coast Seafood Processors Inc. and Aleutian Dragon Fisheries.

Still, the payments are not expected soon. The $5 billion award is on appeal to the circuit court.

Following the spill, the 10 processors sued Exxon Corp. as part of a class-action suit, which included dozens of plaintiffs. Exxon settled with the 10 processors out of court in 1991 for $64 million. As part of the deal, the processors agreed to give back any damages awarded in what is known as a ``cede back'' agreement.

But the processors remained plaintiffs in the class-action suit despite the out-of-court settlement.

Then, in a new 1996 settlement, Exxon agreed to pay the 10 processors $12.4 million from the $5 billion punitive damages pot.

But U.S. District Court Judge H. Russel Holland said the agreement violated the original cede back agreement and that the processors were not entitled to the punitive damages.

Thursday's ruling overturns Judge Holland's ruling.