OSAKA – One of the three North Koreans found adrift Friday in the Sea of Japan has told investigators that a dead man in their small wooden boat died several days earlier after becoming “worn out,” the Japan Coast Guard said Saturday.
“Four of us set off from a North Korean port,” the coast guard quoted the man as saying. “The one who died got gradually worn out and died several days ago.”
The coast guard is investigating the incident as a maritime accident and has kept the three men aboard a patrol boat anchored off Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture. It doesn’t regard them as illegal entrants and will consider the best way to send them back to North Korea, officials said.
According to government sources, the three have indicated they want to return to the North. One of the men was quoted as saying Friday that the boat’s motor broke down while they were fishing, leaving them adrift.
Their 7-meter-long boat, found off Okinoshima Island, is equipped with a global positioning system. Its water and oil tanks were empty, the coast guard said.
The boat was found anchored in Japanese territorial waters about 1 km west of the island, which is in Shimane Prefecture. The three men had no visible injuries but there was no food onboard, the coast guard said, confirming the boat’s engine was broken.
Nine defectors from North Korea aboard a wooden boat were rescued in September in the Sea of Japan off the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture. They were transferred to South Korea the following month.
Close contact on North
Senior Japanese and U.S. officials reconfirmed Saturday that the two countries will closely coordinate with each other and South Korea in dealing with North Korea after the death of Kim Jong Il last month, they said.
Shinsuke Sugiyama, director general of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau at the Foreign Ministry, and Kurt Campbell, assistant U.S. secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, also agreed at a meeting in Tokyo that they and their South Korean counterpart will hold talks later this month in Washington.
“We reconfirmed the significance of the three countries joining hands,” Sugiyama, who is also Tokyo’s chief envoy to the stalled six-party talks on denuclearizing North Korea, told reporters after the meeting.
Campbell, who arrived in Japan on Friday, the last leg of a three-country East Asia tour that took him to China and South Korea earlier in the week, said Tokyo and Washington share a very strong interest in maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.