National

Hut found ransacked on isle where North Koreans stayed before ocean rescue; crew seen dumping items at sea

Kyodo

Appliances, a solar panel and other items have gone missing from a hut on the same uninhabited islet off Hokkaido where 10 North Korean seamen purportedly took refuge from bad weather before requiring a maritime rescue from the Japan Coast Guard, officials and sources familiar with the matter said Monday.

Police and coast guard officials searched the islet on Sunday. According to the sources, a TV, motorbike, refrigerator, rice cooker and power generator were found missing from the ransacked hut, which had been locked.

A wooden fishing boat with 10 North Korean men on board was found adrift near the islet last Wednesday. The fishermen, who were rescued by the Japan Coast Guard, were seen dumping appliances into the sea from their boat.

Authorities found a TV and several other appliances on the boat while the Coast Guard was trying to retrieve the items cast overboard.

The Guard said solar panels used to power a lighthouse on the islet are also missing.

The North Koreans have said they left the northeastern port of Chongjin in September to fish for squid in the Sea of Japan before their steering wheel failed around a month ago. They also said they temporarily took shelter on the islet due to bad weather, the Coast Guard said.

In Hokkaido on Sunday, the wooden boat was towed into a port outside Hakodate for inspection by the police and Coast Guard. The officials are also questioning the crewmen.

In Tokyo, the government’s top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, said he would like to “refrain from prejudgment on the matter because the investigations is ongoing.”

A string of unidentified wooden boats of apparent North Korean origin have washed up along the Sea of Japan coast this year. On Monday, four bodies suspected of being from North Korea were found along the northern coastline, local authorities said.

Three of them, believed to be male, were discovered in Yamagata Prefecture and were partially reduced to bone, with the other found floating near a fishing port. According to investigative sources, police found what appeared to be one or more North Korean badges with the bodies. They are investigating potential links to a capsized boat found Saturday in neighboring Akita.

In Akita Prefecture, a skeleton and what appeared to be pieces of wood from a damaged boat were discovered on Monday as well. Eight North Korean men were taken into protective custody after a wooden boat was found along the Akita shoreline on Nov. 23.

On Nov. 26, another wooden boat was found on along the prefecture’s coastline with eight bodies inside.

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