TOKYO – An old rickety wooden boat was found in the middle of the sea on the west coast of Japan near Niigata on Wednesday, a day when snow and rain ensured that the temperature never rose above of the freezing point. The waves crashed on its deck, flooding the boat, which bore a sign written in Korean.
Then it hit a breakwater, and the boat broke into pieces. Found nearby: two corpses.
The previous day, on an equally frozen Tuesday, a partially skeletonized body was found on the coast of Akita prefecture. Parts of a wooden boat and some cans with Korean writing were thrown on the shore.
Prior to that, three bodies were found near a wooden boat, two of them with pins that showed the face of Kim Il Sung, the "Eternal President". "From North Korea.
Almost every day for the past month, shocking discoveries have been made along the west coast of Japan, across the sea from North Korea." A boat even had a slogan in it. Korean saying: "September is a boat accident prevention month."
North Korean "ghost boats" had previously been washed to shore from time to time, but the sudden increase in the last month – there was a record it's 28 in November, compared to only four the previous November, according to the Coast Guard, there are many people here who are wondering what's going on, and does it tell us something about the state of North Korea?
As with so many Things about North Korea are hard to know for sure, but many analysts think it is a reflection of the more severe sanctions imposed on North Korea to punish the regime for its continued nuclear challenge.
"Fishermen North Koreans have to work more than ever and they have to go further in the sea, but they do not have new boats, "said Atsuhito Isozaki, an associate professor of North Korean studies at Keio University.  [ Pictures of the east coast of North Korea show how hard life is far from the capital ]
Most of the boats dumped in Japan are about 32 feet long and they are made of wood so they have "North Korea no longer has enough gas, so they are running out of fuel," Isozaki said.
The North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, has aggressively promoted fishing as a growing industry and started this year ordering a "dynamic impulse to catch fish" with "modern fishing vessels".
"Fishing boats are like warships, which protect people and the motherland, fish are like bullets and artillery shells," Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the ruler, wrote in an editorial last month. Workers' Party. Winter fishing was an "important battle" to meet annual quotas for fishery products, the newspaper said.
Seafood exports from North Korea to China grew a huge 75 percent between 2015 and 2016, reaching $ 190 million last year, according to figures from the South trade promotion agency. This made it one of the largest sources of income for North Korea.
But in August, in response to the launch of the first intercontinental ballistic missiles from North Korea, the UN Security Council banned the exports of sea products from the rogue state. The following month imposed limits on the amount of refined petroleum products that could be exported to North Korea, all part of a strategy to make the regime think twice before pursuing nuclear weapons.
Although it is still too early to see the full effect of those sanctions – and the extent to which neighboring China is implementing them – analysts said they already seem to be causing some pain to North Korea.
"Fishermen generally have a fixed quota and used to sell seafood to China," said Toshimitsu Shigemura, professor emeritus at Waseda University. "Now with the new sanctions, they can not sell seafood abroad, but the quota still exists, so fishermen must go fishing." They probably stay out too long to catch more fish. "
It is reported that North Korea sold the rights While fishing along its coast to China, to meet their quotas, the North Koreans seem to be fishing illegally in the shallows of Yamato, a rich fishing ground within the exclusive economic zone of Japan.If they run out of fuel, the strong winds
Others say that the increasing number of fishermen who wash themselves in Japan could be evidence of food shortages in North Korea.
the food situation gets worse, so Fishing is encouraged to meet the needs of people, "said Sotetsu Ri, North Korea expert at Ryukoku University. "Fishing is a way of dealing with the economic situation."
Mainichi Shimbun, a left-leaning Japanese newspaper, said the sudden explosion of "ghost ships" showed the tyranny of the North Korean regime.
The Kim administration says that its policy focus is on nuclear development and improving the lives of its citizens, "he wrote in an editorial this week." But in reality, the nuclear and missile development policy of the The administration has led to the deterioration of the life of the North Korean public, which has forced them to carry out ill-advised fishing trips. "
Not all boats have contained corpses, a total of 42 men have been found alive, with a boat loaded with eight Japanese authorities who said they were looking for squid when their engine failed.
In another incident, 10 North Korean men sought refuge in a hut on an uninhabited island in northern Japan, but after they broke in, They stole a TV, a refrigerator and a rice cooker.When the Coast Guard of Japan saw their wooden boat, the men threw the artifacts into the sea.
All the men found in In recent weeks they have asked to be returned to North Korea and the Japanese government is sending them back.
The arrival of the North Koreans is causing nervousness along the coast, the same a stretch from which Japanese citizens were kidnapped by North Korea in the 70s and 80s.
"It really does not make us feel very good," said Kazuhiro Asai, head of the Oga branch of the Fisheries Cooperative Association of Akita, located near where eight men were. found alive recently.
"In the past, there was a case where the North Koreans came to kidnap someone nearby and that was scary, I guess these guys are not kidnapping, but we do not know what they're here for and that worries me."
For others along the coast, where North Korea has landed many of its missiles in the water, this is another unwelcome interference from a hostile neighbor.
"We have an uncomfortable feeling," said Sakari Nishimura of the Fisheries Cooperative Association of Yamagata Prefecture. "These days we must not only watch the missiles that fall from the sky, now we also have to watch the sea."
Yuki Oda contributed the reports.