TOKYO – A group of North Korean fishermen rescued by the Japanese Coast Guard, after it took shelter on an uninhabited islet in northern Japan, has admitted to stealing home appliances from a hut located there, authorities said on Tuesday.
The police and the Coast Guard questioned the 10 fishermen after finding a television, a motorcycle, a refrigerator, a rice cooker and other goods missing from the hut on Matsumae Kojima island, near Hokkaido, where the group took shelter due to bad weather, according to local media.
When Japanese coast guard personnel located the wooden fishing boat on Wednesday, they saw some of the sailors throwing away electrical appliances and other items, some of which were recovered, according to local broadcaster NHK.
The North Korean fishermen told the Japanese authorities that they had left the port of Chongjin in northeastern North Korea in September for squid fishing in the Sea of Japan (called the East Sea on the Korean peninsula), but their steering wheel failed about a month ago and they went adrift, the Japanese news agency Kyodo reported.
The coast guard towed the boat into waters off Hakodate port on Sunday, when the sea calmed down and they could approach it.
One of the crew members was transferred to a hospital a day later.
Dozens of North Korean fishing vessels end up in Japanese waters each year due to drifting because of bad weather, lack of radar equipment, engine malfunction or fuel shortages, a situation quite common in North Korea.
In such an event, the occupants are found alive, but in other cases the sailors die on high sea and their bodies wash ashore in Japanese territory, which has led the local media to call these vessels “ghost ships.”
In the month of November alone, 24 North Korean fishing boats ended up in Japanese waters, which practically constitute half of the 55 similar cases registered this year by the Japanese authorities, which have so far rescued a total of 11 North Koreans and recovered 18 bodies.
The remains of four other sailors were found on the shores of northern Japan on Monday, two of which bore insignia of late North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, according to Kyodo.
It is said that the North Korean fishermen often venture away from their south-east coasts in the Sea of Japan in search of better seafood, to meet the state production quota.