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A remote-controlled underwater camera has captured images of what appear to be several corpses inside the wreck of an unidentified ship that sank in the East China Sea after exchanging fire with Japan Coast Guard vessels in December, a Coast Guard source said Monday.

The bodies are believed to be those of the crew of the 30-meter vessel, which the Coast Guard suspects is a North Korean spy ship.

The corpses appear to be “damaged,” the source said, but the cause has not been determined.

Some media reports Monday speculated that the damage to the bodies substantiates the belief among some Japanese officials that the crew blew up their ship to destroy any evidence of their activities.

But the source said the coast guard has not yet reached any such conclusion, pointing out, for example, that parts of the bodies may have been eaten by fish.

The coast guard sent the camera down to the wreck, lying 95 meters below the sea surface, in late February.

The coast guard has not disclosed any information about the bodies as the case is still under investigation and all details surrounding the incident have not yet been made clear, the source said.

The coast guard plans to send divers down to inspect the wreck later this month to see whether it will be possible to salvage it in May, when the sea is expected to be calmer, the source said.

However, the divers will not be able to enter the ship because they will not be carrying breathing gear and instead will receive oxygen directly from a mother ship on the surface. Coast guard officials have stressed that the ship needs to be pulled up and thoroughly examined to determine what sort of mission it was on.

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