There has been a record number of North Korean fishermen rescued alive: 42 this year compared to zero in 2016
TOKYO: A severe shortage of food and foreign exchange because international sanctions are contributing to a new wave of Korea's North Analysts said that the "ghost ship" fishing boats were washed in Japanese waters.
The fact is that North Korea sold fishing rights to China in an attempt to increase the currency, forcing fishermen to sail on ramshackle boats. out to Japan in search of a capture.
Dozens of North Korean fishing boats bathe on the coast of Japan each year, but last month the Japanese coastguard recorded 28 cases, the highest monthly number since records began in 2014.
There has been a record number of North Korean fishermen rescued alive – 42 this year compared to zero in 2016 – but there are still cases of "ghost boats" replete with corpses, with 18 bodies recovered so far this year.
Japanese authorities say it is often difficult to determine exactly how they died, as boats often float for months before washing in Japan.
"Fishermen are desperate to meet their annual catch targets, which are raised to higher levels every year," Toshimitsu Shigemura, professor emeritus at Waseda University and expert on North Korea, told AFP.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered an increase in fishing when he took office in 2013, analysts noted. ] "Since then, fishermen have been frantically trying to reach capture targets (annuals), but what is different this year is that they are traveling to distant waters in their fragile vessels," said Pyon Jinil, a leading observer and writer of North Korea. Japan
"North Korea last year sold part of its fishing rights in the Yellow Sea to China to obtain foreign currency, so its fishermen were expelled from the western part of its waters," he said.
Then this year, Kim Jong-un ordered his people in a New Year's speech "to establish a fishing base in the Sea of Japan," said Pyon.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the North Korean Studies University in Seoul, agreed, adding: "Because they can not fish in their own waters, they have to go further."
"The fishing boats of North Korea are quite old and do not have much fuel … so they end up naturally drifting and floating in Japan," Yang said.
There is also the backdrop of a severe food shortage, partly linked to international sanctions, analysts said.
Food rationing intensified with "each North Korean person who now receives only 300 grams of food per day," Pyon said.
"To cover the shortage of staple foods like rice and corn, they want to buy them in China, but neither do they have foreign exchange to buy food," he said.
North Korea's foreign exchange reserves have been reduced to one third of what it had last year "The cause of the new rounds of sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council: two this year and nine in total, "he said.
Japanese media have provided general coverage of ships landing from the North, with some speculation that they may be spy boats.
Transport Minister Keiichi Ishii has said he is "boosting efforts to investigate Japan's coastal areas" following a sudden surge of suspicious vessels adrift.
And government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Tuesday that the government was "investigating cautiously" even if they are fishermen or not, "amid media reports that one of the boats carried a sign that read" Korean People's Army (North). "
But Shigemura played down the possibility of them being Pyongyang spies.
" Japan is very easy to infiltrate and spies can enter the country at any time if they wish, " he said.
"The agents of North Korea do not come in such crushed ships. They come in boats with the right equipment to navigate, "he said.
One of the last groups of North Korean fishermen discovered in Japanese waters is suspected of stealing a variety of items, including refrigerators, televisions and a doorknob, before dropping some of them to the sea before the Japanese coastguards investigated them.
"They wanted to sell them at home," Shigemura said.
"But if they go home – after a thorough investigation by the Japanese police – they would be executed. while the authorities fear that they have been turned into Japanese spies, "said the professor.