Three bodies of people believed to be North Koreans were recovered in northern Japan on Monday, two days after authorities found an empty ship in ruins, the coastguards said.
The Coast Guard said a Japanese fishing boat picked up a male body floating off the coast of Sakata in Yamagata prefecture, and two other bodies stranded on a nearby beach an hour and a half later. The bodies were broken, but one had a lapel pin that was thought to be from North Korea.
Officials are investigating whether the bodies were from the severely damaged ship that arrived on the coast on Saturday.
Winds and water currents push dozens of boats towards Japan's northern coasts annually. North Korea's rickety fishing boats are particularly vulnerable because they lack the robustness and equipment to return home.
But the alarming pace of recent weeks has led the Japanese authorities to intensify the patrols.
Twenty-eight of the ships: nicknamed "ghost ships": were detected in November, compared to only four in November last year. In general, only ships or fragments reach the coast. It is very rare that the survivors are rescued and taken to land by the Japanese.
The increase may be related to a campaign led by leader Kim Jong Un to increase fish harvests as a means to increase sources of protein for the nation, which still does not achieve food self-sufficiency and remains vulnerable to health problems caused by the lack of a varied and balanced diet.
To reach their quotas, North Korean fishermen can take more risks and venture further away from their current waters.
The Japanese authorities also have 18 people from two other ships. They claim to be North Koreans.
The first batch of 10 landed on a small uninhabited island in the south of Hokkaido in a damaged fishing boat and allegedly stole electronic devices and other items from an unmanned shelter while temporarily sheltering from rough seas. The coast guard of Japan rescued them last week.
Eight other survivors managed to reach the coast in Akita in an irregular boat – believed to have collapsed and sunk shortly after they were rescued – and have been transferred to immigration custody.
Japanese officials said the 10 are being investigated for possible theft, while the other eight are expected to be sent home through China.
The head of AP Pyongyang office Eric Talmadge contributed to this report.
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