Three surviving crew members from a capsized North Korean fishing boat, found in the Sea of Japan on Wednesday, were handed over to another North Korean vessel on Thursday.
As of Thursday afternoon the Japan Coast Guard was still searching for 12 crew members believed to be missing, sending divers into the overturned boat.
The 20-meter-long wooden ship was first spotted by a Maritime Self-Defense Force plane at around 1:45 p.m. Wednesday, about 360 kilometers north of Ishikawa Prefecture’s Noto Peninsula.
The coast guard then dispatched four patrol boats and found the three crew members on the top of the overturned ship at around 3:40 p.m. the same day.
The three men were rescued and taken aboard a coast guard ship, a spokesman of 9th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in the city of Niigata told The Japan Times by phone. The three told coast guard officers that they were from North Korea and that 12 others were missing. They were on the way home after fishing in the Sea of Japan and expressed a desire to go home, the spokesman said.
The three rescued crew members were handed over to a 40-meter ship called the Kum Chon at around 10:54 a.m. Thursday, according to the coast guard.
The ship was found outside the area that Japan claims as its exclusive economic zone. Recently, many North Korea fishing vessels have operated in the EEZ in the Sea of Japan and have reportedly engaged in illegal poaching. The coast guard spokesman, however, said it is not known if the boat in question had entered the EEZ.
This is not the first time a distressed North Korean fishing boat has been found by Japanese authorities. On Nov. 20, 2015, 10 bodies were found in three North Korean wooden fishing boats, of between 10 to 13 meters in length, off the Noto Peninsula.
From January through mid-December of 2015, 38 wrecked wooden boats were reportedly found in areas on the Sea of Japan coast. Many were believed to be from North Korea.