Ghostly Boats Carry North Korean Crews, Dead and Alive, to Japan

“I am wondering why thus many of these have all of a sudden come in such a short time,” said Kazuko Komatsu, 66, who lives in a house near the marina in Yurihonjo. North Korea, she stated, “is a mysterious nation. We don’t know therefore much. I don’t understand if they’re coming here to escape or if they just accidentally drifted in this article.”

For years, North Korean fishing boats, mostly ghost ships that ran aground either empty or carrying the dead bodies of their crew, have arrived in Japan, often in the fall and winter season when tough weather roils the ocean and conditions grow dangerous for crews using outdated boats and equipment.

The recent rise in numbers of fishing boats landing on Japan’s western coast has spooked local residents, whose views of North Korea are shaped by media accounts of the hermit kingdom and stories of Japanese citizens abducted by the North.


Suspicions are particularly great when live fishermen have come ashore. This year, 18 North Korean crew people own landed on beaches in Japan, the highest number within the last five years.

The crews have told authorities that they hit bad weather and suffered mechanical complications on the boats before drifting with the currents toward Japan. However, many Japanese doubt those testimonies, suspecting darker purposes.

Those doubts were fanned last month when Japan’s Coast Guard learned a North Korean boat anchored in close proximity to an island off Hokkaido. When questioned, crew people confessed that some of the boat’s 10 crew people had opted ashore and used refrigerators, televisions, washers and a motorcycle from angling shacks. Police in Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s key islands, say they remain questioning the fishermen and also have not determined if they will be arrested.

In Yurihonjo, where in fact the eight living North Korean fishermen washed up in a fishing boat on Nov. 23, too little data has fueled speculation. “Will be they spies?” read a good headline in the Akita Sakigake Shimpo, an area newspaper.

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Outside a grocery store in Yurihonjo earlier this week, Mariko Abe, 66, stated she was suspicious of the fishermen’s motives. “Maybe these were attempting to kidnap some people,” she said. Her good friend, Tomoe Goto, 41, stated she wondered if the fishermen were attempting to defect. She likewise worried that there were other crew people, unaccounted for, hiding anywhere in town.


Unlike in South Korea, where authorities disclosed details about a North Korean soldier’s dramatic get away through the heavily guarded border with South Korea last month, the police in Akita have been frugal with details about the North Koreans arriving here.

Local police on Yurihonjo confirmed that the 8 fishermen determined themselves as North Korean and told officials that they had run into some kind of mechanical trouble.

Yoshinobu Ito, deputy chief of the Yurihonjo Police Department, declined to state if they had applied for asylum, or what other information the police had learned from the males during the nine days they stayed at the police station.

“There are parts of the press reports that were accurate and parts that were not,” Mr. Ito said.

The Akita prefectural police said immigration authorities had issued emergency landing permits to the fishermen and determined these were not spies. But Shogi Hashimoto, a superintendent at Akita law enforcement headquarters, said, “we cannot tell you the criteria of how exactly we assumed they aren’t spy agents.”

Fears about North Korean spies entering Japan surface regularly. Such brokers are known to have abducted Japanese citizens in the late 1970s and early on 1980s, and in Akita, the police said that they had arrested North Korean spies in the 1960s and at least once in the 1980s. When the fishermen 1st emerged ashore in Yurihonjo last month, Primary Minister Shinzo Abe stated in Parliament that the crew people could be spies.


Satoru Miyamoto, a good professor of political research at Seigakuin University, said he doubted any of the North Koreans currently landing in Japan are engaged in espionage.

Spies, he said, “would seriously a much better ship.” He stated the current crews were very likely fishermen or farmers attempting to health supplement their incomes throughout their off-season. Some were fairly inexperienced, he said, and when they encountered crazy ocean currents in ageing wooden boats, “many of them ran into trouble.”

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According to propaganda movies released by North Korea, Kim Jong-un, the country’s head, has heavily promoted industrial angling. In one video proven on Japanese broadcaster Nihon Television set, the regime stated it wanted to double the country’s get this year.

Under United Nations Protection Council sanctions against North Korea, the united states cannot sell seafood abroad. Jiro Ishimaru, a journalist with Asia Press who covers North Korea, said various fishermen want to promote their catches domestically, and take big risks to fish for squid in a particularly treacherous section of the Ocean of Japan referred to as the Yamato Go up. “It is dangerous, but they can easily make money,” said Mr. Ishimaru.

Along the eastern coast of North Korea, “now there are angling villages referred to as ‘widows’ villages,’” he stated. “Many persons don’t return.”


Indeed, the eight males whose boat washed ashore in Oga will never make it home. Regarding to Hiromi Wakai, a spokeswoman in Akita for the Coastline Safeguard, their bodies, ranging in age from their 20s to their 50s, were badly decomposed by the time their boat reached the shore. In autopsies, a medical examiner figured two of them died by drowning, but could not determine a reason behind death for the other six.

Over the weekend, the town of Oga cremated the bodies. The Coast Safeguard is usually keeping fingernails and toenails for DNA identification in case family members come forward. In past cases, japan Red Cross has helped to return is always to North Korea.

For now, the ashes of the eight are stored in unmarked white boxes that take a seat on a table at the back of the main hall in Tousenji, a Zen temple in Oga.

Ryosen Kojima, 62, Tousenji’s priest, stated the temple would keep the ashes indefinitely. If they are not claimed, they will eventually be buried in a grave for unidentified souls in the temple’s yard.

“They are humans exactly like us,” said Mr. Kojima, who stated the temple often takes in two or three sets of anonymous remains of North Korean fishermen a 12 months. “But they have no one to provide for their ashes.”

“Given that they were born into this globe,” he said, “they need to have parents and family members. I feel therefore sorry for them.”

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