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It may cost 5.9 billion yen to salvage the suspected North Korean spy ship that sank in the East China Sea in December, sources in the Japan Coast Guard said Thursday.

The estimate includes constructing a special barge to tow the ship and costs that could be incurred if lifting the vessel is delayed by bad weather.

“The cost is equivalent to building a 1,000-ton patrol ship and is by no means cheap,” a senior coast guard official said.

“But conducting detailed investigations inside the ship will lead to obtaining secret data and may prevent further such intrusions.”

The ship had entered Japanese waters before being chased out by patrol vessels. It sank after a running gunbattle.

The Cabinet was expected to approve discretionary funds to cover the cost on Friday, and the coast guard hopes to begin salvage operations by the end of the month.

Although the ship sank in China’s exclusive economic zone, Beijing agreed Tuesday to allow Japan to raise the vessel.

The two sides also agreed to continue discussing the issue of compensation for Chinese fishermen who have complained that their operations are being hindered by the presence of Japanese patrol vessels in the area since the shootout.

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and her Chinese counterpart, Tang Jiaxuan, confirmed the agreement during talks Wednesday in Thailand.

Japan has conducted a series of underwater probes of the ship, and the government said the investigations have bolstered its belief the ship is from North Korea.

Japan claims the vessel was either a spy ship or running drugs.

North Korea has denied any connection to the vessel but denounced its sinking as an “act of piracy.”

The unidentified ship, with an estimated 15 people aboard, sank in the East China Sea southeast of Shanghai after exchanging fire with Japanese patrol boats on Dec. 22. There were no survivors from the vessel.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Tuesday he has ordered that salvage efforts be made before the typhoon season, which usually runs from July through September where the ship is located.

According to the sources, there may be explosives or ammunition inside the vessel that could become unstable and explode upon coming into contact with air when the ship is raised.

To prevent the ship from coming into contact with air, which would also accelerate corrosion, a special barge will be built to tow it to Kagoshima Prefecture, the sources said.

The work will be commissioned to a private salvage company and will begin next week at the earliest, with the entire operation expected to last around a month, they said.

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