A wooden boat containing five decomposing corpses and with Korean characters on its side washed ashore on Sado Island in the Sea of Japan, police said Wednesday, prompting speculation the vessel came from North Korea.
Also found in the 13-meter boat were belongings and trash.
“The bodies are decomposed badly,” a police spokesman said, adding that Korean writing on the hull was impossible to read.
The boat was found around 9 a.m. by local fishermen.
“We cannot determine their nationality yet. The boat seems to have been drifting in the sea for quite some time,” he said.
The police and the Japan Coast Guard are seeking to identify the deceased, who appear to be adults, and are probing how the boat drifted onto the beach, the police said.
Details were not yet known, including when the five died.
In January, the coast guard found three people adrift in a small boat off the Sea of Japan coast.
The three North Koreans and another man, who had died of hypothermia, were originally thought to be defectors from the communist state.
But they told officials their boat had developed engine trouble during a fishing trip and they had unintentionally drifted. They were later repatriated.
The bulk of would-be refugees from North Korea cross into China to escape repression, poverty and food shortages in the isolated nation.
Nine North Koreans — three men, three women and three children — were picked up by the coast guard in September 2011 after spending five days at sea. They then traveled to South Korea to settle there.
In 2007, an apparent family of four North Korean refugees arrived at a port in Aomori Prefecture, also in a small, open boat.