Home / Uncategorized / Ghost ships transport North Korean crews, dead and alive, to Japan

Ghost ships transport North Korean crews, dead and alive, to Japan

"I wonder why so many of these have come suddenly in such a short time," said Kazuko Komatsu, 66, who lives in a house near the Yurihonjo marina. North Korea, he said, "is a mysterious country, we do not know much, I do not know if they will come here to escape or if they just accidentally moved here."

For years, North Korea's fishing boats, mostly ghost ships stranded empty or carrying the corpses of their crew, had arrived in Japan, often in the months of autumn and winter, when the hectic weather lashes the sea and the conditions become dangerous for crews using boats and equipment outdated

The recent increase in the number of fishing boats on the west coast of Japan has scared local residents. whose views of North Korea are determined by the media reports of the hermit kingdom and the stories of Japanese citizens kidnapped by the North.


Yurihonjo, a port city in northwestern Japan. A ship carrying eight living North Koreans was washed here.

Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

Suspicions are particularly high when live fishermen have landed. This year, 18 North Korean crew landed on the beaches of Japan, the highest number in the last five years.

The crews have told the authorities that they had bad weather and suffered mechanical problems on their ships before floating with the currents to Japan. But some Japanese doubt those stories, suspecting that they have darker purposes.

Those doubts flared up last month when the Coast Guard of Japan discovered a North Korean ship anchored near an island off Hokkaido. When asked, the fishermen confessed that some of the 10 crewmembers had disembarked and taken refrigerators, televisions, washing machines and a motorcycle from the fishing huts. Police in Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's main islands, say they have not determined whether they will be arrested.

In Yurihonjo, where the eight living North Korean fishermen threw themselves into a fishing boat on November 23, lack of information has fueled speculation. "Are they spies?" Said a headline in the Akita Sakigake Shimpo, a local newspaper.

Outside a grocery store in Yurihonjo earlier this week, Mariko Abe, 66, said she suspected. "Maybe they were trying to kidnap some people," he said. Her friend, Tomoe Goto, 41, said she wondered if the fishermen were trying to defect. He was also concerned that there were other crew members hiding in the city.


Posters at the Akita police headquarters demanding the return of the kidnapped Japanese from North Korea. Many Japanese suspect that stranded North Korean fishermen are actually spies.

Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

Unlike South Korea, where authorities revealed details about the dramatic escape of a North Korean soldier across the heavily guarded border with South Korea last month, Akita police have been frugal with details about the North Koreans. coming here

Yoshinobu Ito, deputy head of the Yurihonjo police department, declined to say whether the eight fishermen who landed had applied for asylum, or what other information the police had learned from the men during the nine days they remained at the police station .

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

Akita prefectural police said the immigration authorities had issued emergency landing permits to the fishermen and determined they were not spies But Shogi Hashimoto, superintendent at the Akita police headquarters, said, "We can not tell him the criteria of how we assume they are not espionage agents. "

Fears about North Korean spies entering Japan come to the surface regularly. It is known that these agents abducted Japanese citizens in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and in Akita, police said they had arrested North Korean spies in the 1960s and at least once in the 1990s. 1980. When the fishermen landed in Yurihonjo last month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the crew could be spies.

Satoru Miyamoto, professor of political science at Seigakuin University, said he doubted that the North Koreans who currently land in Japan will be dedicated to espionage.


Ryosen Kojima, a Buddhist monk, in the temple where he keeps white boxes containing the ashes of the eight North Koreans who were found dead on the Miyazawa beach.

Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

Spies, he said, "would come in a better ship." He said that the current crews were probably fishermen or farmers trying to supplement their income. Some were relatively inexperienced, he said, and when they encountered wild ocean currents in old wooden boats.

According to propaganda videos published by North Korea, Kim Jong-un, the country's leader, has strongly promoted commercial fishing. In a video shown on Japanese TV station Nihon TV, the regime said it wanted to double the country's catches this year.

According to UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea, the country can not sell shellfish abroad. Jiro Ishimaru, an Asia Press reporter covering North Korea, said many fishermen are trying to sell their catches domestically and take great risks to catch squid in a particularly dangerous area of ​​the Sea of ​​Japan known as the Yamato Rise. [19659029] Along the east coast of North Korea, "there are fishing villages known as 'widow villages'," he said. "Many people do not return."

In fact, the eight men whose ship reached Oga will never get home. According to Hiromi Wakai, a spokeswoman in Akita for the Coast Guard, their bodies were very decomposed when their boat reached the shore. In autopsies, a coroner concluded that two of them died of drowning, but could not determine the cause of death of the other six.


The rough sea of ​​Japan, seen from Yurihonjo.

Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

Over the weekend, the city of Oga incinerated the bodies. The Coast Guard keeps fingernails and toenails for DNA identification in case family members show up. In previous cases, the Japanese Red Cross has helped return the remains to North Korea.

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

Ryosen Kojima, 62, priest of Tousenji, said the temple would keep the ashes indefinitely. If they are not claimed, they will eventually be buried in a tomb for unknown souls in the back garden of the temple.

"They are human like us," said Mr. Kojima, who said that the temple usually admits two or three. sets of anonymous remains of North Korean fishermen per year. "But they do not have anyone to take care of their ashes"

"Since they were born in this world," he said, "they must have parents and families." I'm so sorry for them "

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