With a record number of wooden boats from North Korea having drifted into Japanese waters this year, local governments are finding it difficult to deal with the growing number of bodies of dead sailors and disposing of the vessels.
The number of vessels that have been found washed up on the coast or drifting in the Sea of Japan, which separates Japan from the Korean Peninsula, stood at 89 this year as of last Friday, topping the highest annual figure since comparable data became available in 2013, according to the Japan Coast Guard. Bodies found in or near the boats totaled 25, the coast guard noted.
Normally, abandoned boats of unknown ownership are dismantled, and unidentified bodies are cremated.
But some local governments keep the cremains in consideration of potential future requests for their return. North Korean representatives have already lodged such a request.
In the city of Oga in Akita Prefecture, 10 dead bodies have been found since Nov. 27.
The Oga city government has kept the cremains with related information, including the number of the boat in which eight of them were found, so it can return them to North Korea in the future.
In the case of the eight bodies, a request for return of the remains came from North Korea via the Japanese Red Cross Society on Dec. 6. The city government plans to meet the request.
The Oga government returned the remains of a person cast ashore on a beach in the city to North Korea in fiscal 2013.
“All we can do is wait for contact from the Japanese Red Cross or others because there are no diplomatic relations” between Japan and North Korea, an official of the city government said.
The city returns remains when it can approximate the identity of the cremated individual, the official added.
The government of Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture, also deals with such dead bodies with their potential future return in mind.
Five bodies were found on a beach in the city between Dec. 4 and Friday. Two of them wore badges depicting the late Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea.
The Tsuruoka government could not confirm their identities or nationalities. But it plans to keep their cremains together with the badges.
Many municipalities dispose of wooden boats as marine debris.
The Yamagata prefectural government on Dec. 14 dismantled a wooden boat that washed ashore on a beach in Tsuruoka on Nov. 21.
The Yamagata government kept the boat at the location where it was found for about two weeks, with a notice calling on the owner to make contact with the manager of the beach. Nobody contacted the manager.
It is expected to cost some ¥700,000 to dispose of the boat. Almost 80 percent of the cost will be covered by subsidies from the Environment Ministry.