TOKYO (Reuters) – An increasing number of North Korean fishing vessels have appeared in front of Japan, some in distress, some abandoned and some with corpses on board, which fears spy infiltration as the number of spies increases. tension with North Korea.
The Coast Guard has reinforced patrols in response to ships, including tagged military property, just off the coast or even on Japanese beaches.
Coastguards and analysts in North Korea have played down fears, attributing the increase in boats to more mundane reasons, such as a North Korean campaign to increase catches of fish in winter.
But the worries persist.
"The government is aware that this is causing great anxiety to the local population," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters this week.
"The police and the coastguards … are working to clarify the situation," he said. "Once we have the facts, we will respond firmly."
There were 28 cases of ships drifting off the coast of Japan or on land in November, the Coast Guard said, compared with four in November last year.
One of the boats was a 14-meter wooden boat from North Korea found on the northern island of Hokkaido with 10 crew members on board.
Raising the alarm in a country that North Korea has threatened to destroy, amid tension over its relentless development of nuclear bombs and missiles, there was a square plate attached to the ship that read: "Korean People's Army, unit Military No. 854 "in Korean script.
The police and the coastguard interrogating the crew refused to comment.
One day before the boat stopped, eight decomposed bodies were found in a small boat thrown to the beach. Also on board were life jackets with Korean letters.
"I do not intend to stoke the fears," opposition lawmaker Tetsuro Fukuyama told parliament on Tuesday, referring to another case in which eight men who said they were from North Korea were found roaming a marina.
The risk of these people, if they are special agents, of landing just when a military operation is being carried out? "
BATTLE FOR FISH
Analysts point to an increasing demand for fish in North Korea and competition with Chinese boats, pushing North Korean fishermen further into the sea.
North Korea is calling for larger catches of fishermen who sail in winter seas in small old boats with unreliable engines.
The North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun urged fishermen last month to fight their "important battle" to meet annual quotas in winter.
] "The fish are like bullets and artillery shells," he said.
Nihon University professor Ken Kotani said he did not believe the boats were signaling an espionage campaign by North Korea, and noted that local authorities They were handling the situation.
"The government entrusted this to the local police," he said.
Satoru Miyamato, a professor at Seigakuin University, said he suspected that the Growing demand for fish was attracting more fishermen to the sea in rickety boats.
"The number of wealthy people is growing and they are looking for a healthy diet, fishing meets that demand," he said.
Reports of Linda Sieg, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Kaori Kaneko in Tokyo; Soyoung Kim, Josh Smith in Seoul; Edition by Robert Birsel