A North Korean spy ship that sank in the East China Sea in 2001 may also have ferried agents to and from Japan, officials of a joint police-coast guard team analyzing the salvaged ship said Friday.
The officials said they had discovered a map of the southeastern coast of Kagoshima Prefecture’s Satsuma Peninsula inside the retrieved vessel.
This “makes it difficult to disregard the possibility that North Korean agents had gone in and out of the country” using the ship, an official said.
The Japan Coast Guard and the Kagoshima Prefectural Police have long believed that the ship, which sank off southwestern Japan after a shootout with Japan Coast Guard patrol boats, was involved in smuggling amphetamines and other drugs to a yakuza group.
On Friday, Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Chikage Ogi confirmed that the spy ship is the same vessel known to have been running drugs in 1998.
A Japanese couple, Shuichi Ichikawa, 23, and Rumiko Masumoto, 24, were abducted by North Korean agents from the shore of the western part of the peninsula in 1978. But no abductions are known to have occurred in the area covered by the map.
The topographical map, charting areas around the towns of Kaimon and Ei, was apparently based on a Japanese map that was several decades old, they said, adding it was water-resistant and bore no markings.
Ogi said it has been determined that a cell phone recovered from the vessel was used by the ship’s crew to communicate with Koreans living in Japan.
The team sent papers to prosecutors the same day on 10 crew members of the ship on suspicion of attempted murder and disobeying maritime inspection orders.
The ship sank in the East China Sea off southwestern Japan on Dec. 22, 2001, after refusing to halt and firing upon JCG patrol boats. All crew members on the spy ship are presumed dead.
The ship was raised in September.
The government formally identified it as North Korean in October, after North Korea admitted it had run spying operations in waters around Japan.
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