TOKYO – Eight North Korean fishermen washed up on the northern Japanese coast after their boat broke down, the Japanese government said Friday.
The wooden boat and the crew were located by police late Thursday in the port of the city of Yurihonjo, in Akita prefecture, after receiving a call about “suspicious people” on the beach.
The rescued crew members, who identified themselves as North Koreans and do not have serious injuries, said they were fishing when their vessel’s engine broke down and they drifted ashore in northeastern Japan, government spokesperson Yoshihide Suga said on Friday.
The ship had left North Korea about a month and a half ago to go fishing for squid, but had engine trouble and drifted for about a month, a source close to the investigation told Japanese state broadcaster NHK.
The police were interrogating the fishermen and have searched the boat without finding any evidence that they are spies, NHK said.
The boat carried a plaque written in Korean with the term “Chongjin,” the name of a city in northeastern North Korea, according to the Japanese news agency Kyodo.
Suga said the crew would be repatriated after a police investigation.
Police officials cited by Kyodo said it was unlikely the fishermen were asylum seekers given their eagerness to return home.
On Nov. 15, the Japanese coast guard rescued three North Korean sailors from another vessel that capsized in the Sea of Japan with 15 crew members on board.
The Japanese government decided to repatriate almost immediately the three fishermen found alive after they said they wanted to return to home.