10 'North Koreans' drift into Japanese waters: Coastguard

A North Korean wooden ship drifting off the coast of Kojima, Matsumae, Hokkaido Prefecture, northern Japan, on Nov 30, 2017. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan will investigate 10 people who have signalled they are from North Korea after their dilapidated boat drifted into waters off the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, officials said Thursday (Nov 30).

The coastguard spotted the vessel on Wednesday, the latest in a recent spate of sightings of wrecked or capsized boats from North Korea, sometimes with dead bodies aboard.

A crew member told the coastguard they were 10 North Korean nationals sheltering from stormy weather, said coastguard spokesman Yuuichi Chiba.

"They gestured 'yes' or 'no' to the questions we put on our electronic message board," said Chiba.

"We are now towing the boat to calmer water and plan to hold an on-site inspection inside the boat this afternoon," he added.

The incident came days after a group of eight fishermen claiming to be from North Korea washed up in northern Akita prefecture.

And earlier this week, 10 bodies were found inside a battered wooden boat in Akita.

Dozens of North Korean fishing vessels wash up on Japan's coast every year.

Experts say some North Korean fishermen travel far out to sea in order to satisfy government mandates for bigger catches.

But their old and poorly equipped vessels are prone to mechanical and other problems, including running out of fuel, and there are few ways for them to call for rescue.

Last year, 66 boats that appear to have come from North Korea were found floating in Japanese seas. More than 50 have already been discovered this year, according to the coastguard.

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