North Korean ‘Ghost Ships’ Are Washing Up In Japan Almost Every Day, And No One Really Knows Why

Kyodo/via REUTERS

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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Tattered wooden ships and dead bodies are washing up on Japanese shores on an almost daily basis, but it’s not clear why.

Three boats, one of which was accompanied by two skeletons, were found on Japan’s west coast Thursday. The day before, two dead bodies were discovered near a just offshore. Japanese authorities discovered another skeletonized body Tuesday, and another four bodies washed up Monday.

All of the dead are believed to be North Korean citizens who perished at sea.

Two of the bodies wore pins celebrating Kim Il Sung, the respected founder of North Korea, and one of the boats featured Korean writing that ironically read: “September is boat accident prevention month,” the Washington Post introduced.

In November, over two dozen wooden ships believed to be of North Korean origin appeared on the Japanese coast, and more than 70 suspected North Korean vessels have shown up since the start of this year, with many accompanied by the deceased. The lives of eight men ended aboard a ship that washed ashore in Japan late last month, the New York Times reported.

The barely-seaworthy vessels that wash up on Japanese beaches are called “ghost ships,” but the ships aren’t always carrying dead bodies or showing up empty. Every now and again, living North Korean crews also show up. A crew of eight North Koreans was picked up by authorities last month and is expected to be returned home soon.

Many observers have speculated that freezing temperatures, inadequate supplies to prevent defection, rough seas, and longer deployments to increase catches are leading to tragic deaths at sea for North Korean fishermen, but some recent discoveries are worrying some of the locals.

A wooden ship that washed up in Hokkaido with a crew of ten read “Korean People’s Army, No. 854 military unit,” stirring fears that the North, a country which has repeatedly threatened to destroy Japan, may be up to no good. A total of 18 live North Korean fishermen have come ashore this year, raising concerns.

Some have even questioned whether or not the unexpected visitors are spies. Others are worried that the North Koreans are there to kidnap Japanese citizens, as they did for decades during the Cold War.

Experts, however, suggest that the North Koreans showing up on the Japanese coast are unlucky fishermen. All along the North Korean coast, there are reportedly fishing towns known as “widow villages” because the men often do not return. Nonetheless, the regular ghost ship appearances make the Japanese people nervous.

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