A vessel that may have been the suspected North Korean spy ship that sank after a gunbattle with Japan Coast Guard boats in December had previous contact with another mystery ship off Shanghai, government sources said Wednesday.
The contact was confirmed via radio intercept records provided by the Defense Agency and reconnaissance satellite images provided by the United States.
The ship that sank was earlier believed to have received fuel at a Chinese port after leaving North Korea. Given the latest data, however, the Defense Agency now suspects it took on fuel and supplies from another ship at sea.
The sources said that the Chinese government may have given Tokyo the green light to salvage the sunken ship, which went down off Shanghai in China’s exclusive economic zone, because the latest information suggests no Chinese parties were involved in the incident.
China had previously opposed the salvage.
Regarding the new suspicions that the ship was refueled at sea, Takemasa Moriya, chief of the agency’s Defense Policy Bureau, told a meeting of lawmakers from the Liberal Democratic Party on Wednesday that the agency has yet to confirm this.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda was unwilling to comment specifically, telling reporters, “It is difficult for us to confirm whether we have such intelligence or not.”
Any such confirmation could be “a nuisance to intelligence sources,” he added.
Japanese authorities believe the sunken ship is of North Korean origin and was involved in spying or running drugs.
Pyongyang has denied any involvement in the matter.
The coast guard has started work to raise the vessel, which lies on the seabed about 390 km west-northwest of Amami-Oshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture.
Fifteen people are thought to have been aboard the ship when it went down Dec. 22. Four bodies have been recovered.
Three coast guard officers were wounded in the shootout, which took place after the coast guard first spotted the vessel in Japanese waters and gave chase.
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