by WorldTribune Staff, December 4, 2017
Japan’s coast guard reports dozens of rickety wooden boats, some with human skeletons on board, have washed up on Japan’s shores throughout this year. Analysts believe the “ghost ships” are most likely from North Korea.
The “ghost ships” have been discovered in increasing numbers since North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un called for an expansion of the fisheries industry to counter the nation’s well-documented food shortages.
“What it signifies to me is the conditions in North Korea are exceptionally grim,” Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan, told ABC News in an interview in Tokyo.
North Korea also has reportedly sold its fishing rights in its coastal waters to China.
“So Chinese fishing trawlers are going through the coastal waters of North Korea and this is pushing North Korean fishermen out beyond their comfort zone into the dangerous Sea of Japan, and some of them aren’t surviving,” Kingston said.
The Japanese coast guard has reported finding 59 of the “ghost ships” this year.
“I’m sure there are many that are sinking,” Kingston said. “So it’s probably a lot worse than we actually know.”
Japan’s coast guard on Nov. 30 recovered one of the “ghost ships” drifting off the western coast of the northern island of Hokkaido. Ten men found aboard the wooden ship identified themselves as North Koreans and said they were taking refuge at an island nearby due to rough weather.
On Nov. 15, the coast guard rescued three men from a capsized boat off Japan’s Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa prefecture. The men told authorities they are North Korean. The coast guard found three bodies of missing crew members from that boat the following day, then four more bodies on another wrecked ship in the same area a day later, also believed to be North Korean, according to The Associated Press.
Most of the people found aboard the wooden boats, dead or alive, are believed to be inexperienced fishermen who struggle to navigate the region’s rough seas in the fall and winter. There are suspicions that some intend to defect or are attempted refugees fleeing the dire conditions at home, Kingston said.
“Come November, this is really dangerous water,” he said of the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea.
North Korea is a nation of 24.9 million people and an estimated 18 million of them are dependent on government food rations while 10.5 million are believed to be undernourished, the United Nations reported earlier this year.