SEOUL • North Korea's Foreign Ministry yesterday "strongly demanded" that Japan pay compensation for a fishing boat that sank when it collided with a Japanese patrol boat last week, North Korean state news agency KCNA reported.
The collision last Monday was deliberate and "a gangster act" by Japan, and Tokyo should take steps to prevent future incidents, said a spokesman for the ministry, in a statement carried by KCNA.
"We strongly demand that the Japanese government compensate for the infliction of the material damage by sinking our vessel," the unnamed spokesman said.
"If such an incident occurs again, Japan will face an undesirable consequence."
The Japanese coast guard said last Monday that it rescued about 60 North Korean crew members from a fishing boat that sank after it collided with the patrol boat that was chasing it out of Japanese waters.
The Pyongyang official disputed Japan's claim that a sharp turn by the North Korean boat had caused the accident.
The fishing boat was "on a normal navigation", the official said in the statement.
"Japan is impatiently trying to justify its deliberate act, and it even acts like a guilty party filing the suit first," the official said.
"Yet, they cannot evade their responsibility for this incident of sinking our vessel and threatening even the safety of its crew."
At the time, the Japanese authorities had said the North Korean boat was fishing illegally in Japan's exclusive economic zone.
Experts believe some North Korean fishermen are travelling further out to sea to satisfy Pyongyang's mandates for bigger catches. But their old and poorly equipped vessels are prone to mechanical faults and other problems, including running out of fuel, and there are few ways for them to call for rescue.
A record 225 suspected North Korean fishing vessels washed up on Japan's coast last year, according to the Japanese coast guard.
Boats have also washed up on Japanese shores with the crew on board dead - referred to as "ghost ships" by local media.
Last year, 10 North Koreans rescued from a tiny wooden boat drifting off northern Japan were deported back to their country.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE