TOKYO • Eight men who were found by police on the north-western coast of Japan claimed to be North Koreans whose boat had broken down and drifted ashore on a fishing trip.
Police official Yoshinobu Ito said yesterday that the men appeared to be fishermen rather than defectors. Their wooden boat was found nearby. Japanese police took them into custody after a resident of Yurihonjo, a city in the prefecture of Akita, reported the presence of individuals of unknown nationality.
The incident comes at a time of rising tension over North Korea's nuclear arms and missile programmes after United States President Donald Trump redesignated the isolated nation a state sponsor of terrorism.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, asked if the possibility that the men were spies had been ruled out, told a news conference yesterday that the authorities were handling the matter carefully.
Japan is studying plans to cope with a possible influx of tens of thousands of North Korean evacuees should a military or other crisis break out on the peninsula, as well as how to weed out spies and terrorists, a Japanese newspaper said.
Last week, the Japan Coast Guard rescued three North Korean men on a capsized boat in the Sea of Japan. The men said they were fishermen and were later sent home aboard a North Korean vessel.