Rescued trio head off for repatriation; coast guard holds onto corpse found on drifting boat

North Korea castaways fly to China

Kyodo

Three North Korean men who were found last week adrift in an open, 7-meter wooden boat off a Shimane Prefecture island were flown Monday from Fukuoka Airport to Beijing and eventual repatriation.

Earlier Monday, Japan and North Korea agreed to return the three via Beijing. The corpse of a fourth man also found on the boat is being kept at the Japan Coast Guard’s Miho base in Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture.

The North Koreans were transferred to the air base from a coast guard patrol boat anchored off the city, where they had stayed after being found drifting Friday off the island of Okinoshima in the Sea of Japan.

Coast guard officers said they haven’t decided how they will deal with the body yet.

The repatriation of the three followed North Korea’s request over the weekend through diplomatic channels in Beijing for Tokyo to send them home, sources said.

Japanese and North Korean embassy officials in Beijing were involved in the talks on how to deal with the incident.

Initially suspected of being defectors, the three men, all adults, said their boat developed engine trouble while they were fishing and they were set adrift. They expressed their desire to return home, the coast guard said.

Last September, nine defectors from North Korea aboard a wooden boat were rescued in the Sea of Japan off the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture.

They were sent to South Korea the following month.