National / Crime & Legal

North Korean skipper gets suspended sentence for theft on Japanese island

Kyodo

The Hakodate District Court on Tuesday handed down a suspended sentence to the captain of a North Korean fishing boat for stealing goods on a remote Hokkaido island last year.

Kang Myong Hak, 45, was given a 30-month prison term, suspended for four years, for stealing items worth ¥5.63 million on the small island off the town of Matsumae.

Kang and other crew members, believed to have been fishing for squid in the Sea of Japan, were found aboard a wooden boat drifting in waters near the island in late November.

Judge Takeshi Hashimoto said there is “little room for leniency” in considering the motive claimed by Kang of giving the stolen items to crew members to use as ballast so they could operate their boat safely. But Hashimoto cited Kang’s show of remorse as a reason for suspending the sentence.

Before the ruling was handed down, Kang said through an interpreter: “We were fishers drifting away amid bad weather. Please return us to our homeland as soon as possible because it is waiting for us.”

The spelling of his name is based on phonetics.

Kang and nine other North Koreans were found Nov. 28 on board the vessel near the small uninhabited island, where a hut was found to have been robbed.

The boat was among a record 104 North Korean vessels spotted drifting toward or found washed ashore on the Japanese coast last year, with 35 corpses confirmed aboard in total, as the international community clamped down on North Korea with sanctions following its repeated missile launches and nuclear tests.

According to the indictment, Kang conspired with his crew to steal nine items worth ¥4.86 million, including a solar panel, from a lighthouse and some 30 items, such as a power generator and television, worth about ¥770,000, from the hut of a local fishery cooperative between Nov. 10 and 28.

Kang admitted to the theft and apologized during the first session of his trial, and his defense team sought a suspended sentence saying he did not arrive at the island with the intention to steal.

While Hokkaido police charged Kang and eight of the nine crew members with theft, prosecutors only indicted the captain, believing the crewmen played a subordinate role under him.

On Feb. 9, Japan deported eight crew members while another man who had been hospitalized for tuberculosis was left behind. Kang and the man are expected to be deported soon.