WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- Japan has been seeing ghost ships washed up on its shore in recent weeks.
- Some of these wooden boats were discovered with skeletons on board.
- Authorities are still investigating this mystery but experts say there are signs that these so-called “ghost ships” were from North Korea.
Ghost ships were frequenting Japan the past few weeks. The Japanese coast guard found a dilapidated vessel off the Matsumae west coast on the northern island of Hokkaido on Thursday. The ten men on board identified themselves as North Koreans seeking refuge at a nearby island due to rough weather.
On Monday, authorities discovered eight partially decomposed bodies aboard a ghost ship on Akita prefecture coast.
When asked about the grim discovery, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters: “The coast guard and police have to cooperate to step up sea patrols around Japan. The government intends to improve this to ensure we can guard against suspicious boats or people arriving in Japan.”
Suga refused to reveal the boat’s origin. A coast guard official in Akita, who preferred to be unnamed, told The Associated Press that one of the bodies was holding a 1,000 won North Korean note.
On Nov. 23, Akita prefecture police officers rescued eight unidentified men from another wooden vessel seen drifting near Yurihonjo city’s marina.
The men told authorities they are from North Korea and their ship broke down while fishing. The police are investigating their claims. Three North Koreans were also rescued from a capsized vessel off Japan’s Noto Peninsula on Nov. 15.
Japan has no formal diplomatic relations with North Korea, but Suga said they are sending the men back home. Suga also assured reporters on Tuesday that these ghost ships pose “no immediate danger.”
According to experts, ghost ships being washed up in Japan aren’t a new phenomenon. Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan, approximates about 500 crude vessels presumed to be North Korean have washed up on Japan’s coastline since 2011. Kingston predicted that more vessels will likely appear in the months ahead.
Interviewed by ABC News in Tokyo, Kingston said: “What it signifies to me is the conditions in North Korea are exceptionally grim.”
According to a report published by the United Nations in March, an estimated 18 million are dependent on government food rations among its 25 million populace. 10.5 million are believed to be undernourished.
There are suspicions that some of the people found aboard these dilapidated ships intend to flee the dire conditions back home, Kingston said.
The Associated Press reported that the Japanese coast guard has discovered 59 “ghost ships” this year washing up on its northern coastlines. There were 66 last year and 80 in 2012.
“I’m sure there are many that are sinking. So it’s probably a lot worse than we actually know,” Kingston said.
Source: Yahoo News