North Korean boat skipper gets suspended jail sentence in Japan

The wooden North Korean vessel spotted off the Hokkaido town of Matsumae, Hokkaido, in northern Japan, on Nov 29, 2017.
The wooden North Korean vessel spotted off the Hokkaido town of Matsumae, Hokkaido, in northern Japan, on Nov 29, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - A North Korean fishing boat captain was handed a suspended prison sentence by a Japanese court on Tuesday (March 27) for stealing items including electronic appliances after being rescued from his stranded vessel last year.

The 45-year-old was among 10 North Koreans spotted aboard a tiny wooden boat struggling in bad weather off the northern island of Hokkaido in late November.

They were rescued from the vessel, and some crew members were subsequently arrested over the theft of items ranging from home appliances to solar panels.

Some of them admitted taking items from a local fishery cooperatives facility on the remote island where they took refuge.

The captain was arrested and indicted last year for taking the lead in stealing some 40 items worth 5.65 million yen (S$69,938.11), local media reported.

Eight other crew members were deported home via China last month, while a ninth has been in hospital with tuberculosis.

On Tuesday, the Hakodate District Court in Hokkaido issued the captain a suspended jail term of two years and six months, a court spokesman told AFP.


Presiding judge Takeshi Matsumoto said "the crime was malicious and the damage is expensive", Jiji Press and other local media reported.

However, the judge noted that the skipper regretted his conduct and that most of the stolen goods have been returned, reports said.

It was unclear if the captain would also be deported.

Dozens of North Korean fishing vessels have washed up on Japan's coast in recent years, with the number hitting a record 104 in 2017, up from 66 the previous year, according to the Japanese coastguard.

Experts say some North Korean fishermen are travelling further 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.

Some of the boats wash up on Japanese shores with the crew on board dead, a phenomenon referred to by the local media as "ghost ships".