Japan inspects drift ship carrying 10 North Koreans



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TOKYO – Japanese authorities inspected a decrepit ship on Thursday with 10 men on board identifying themselves as North Koreans adrift in rough seas off the northern island of Hokkaido.

Coast Guard officials said they boarded the wooden ship and began the inspection after taking it to a safer area. Authorities saw the ship off the western coast of the city of Matsumae on Tuesday but the rough seas prevented them from approaching.

The Coast Guard said the men had previously communicated in Korean through loudspeakers and a message board saying they were from North Korea and were taking refuge on a nearby island due to bad weather. It was not immediately known if the vessel was involved in illegal fishing within the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone of Japan.

Japan has been intensifying patrols after a recent increase in the number of vessels arriving on its shores.

Dozens of boats and debris arrive on the shores of northern Japan every year. This year, 59 cases were detected, compared to 66 last year and 80 from five years ago, half of them in November alone, according to the Coast Guard.

Officials said they were linked to a campaign informed by the North to send fishermen further away for more catches.

It is not clear whether the people aboard those ships floating nearby The Japanese coasts try every year to defect or simply can not return aboard wooden vessels unseaworthy. Officials say the boats are frequently pushed into Japan during the winter due to a seasonal wind.

In Akita, on Monday, authorities found eight bodies inside a wooden boat believed to be from North Korea after being dragged to the beach. Last week, a group of eight men who say they are from North Korea came to the coast and are being investigated. The authorities said that they were not asylum seekers and expressed their desire to return to their country.

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