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North Korean boats drifting off Japan likely to hit record high in 2018: coast guard

JIJI

The number of wooden boats drifting off Japan or brought ashore is highly likely to hit an all-time high in 2018, according to the Japan Coast Guard.

This year, 89 such boats, believed to be North Korean fishing boats, had been found off or on the coasts of the Sea of Japan as of noon on Friday. It is inevitable that the annual figure will top the previous year’s 104, the coast guard said.

Many were spotted floating off Hokkaido or found along its coastline.

According to the 1st Regional Coast Guard Headquarters, which has the waters surrounding Hokkaido under its jurisdiction, there had been 35 boats found adrift or cast ashore as of Friday noon, far outnumbering the six seen for the whole of 2017.

The number of such vessels has shot up since November, the headquarters noted. Of the latest total for Hokkaido, 23 were recorded from Nov. 1, it said.

Behind this year’s trend is the possibility that North Korean fishing boats are expanding their areas of operations northward.

“We are aware that vessels seemingly from North Korea are moving toward more northerly areas,” an official at the Fisheries Agency said.

If these are fishing boats, they must move to areas with fish, the official said.

In 2013, the coast guard started tallying the number of ships floating off the Sea of Japan coast, as well as the vessels brought ashore and the number of dead bodies, if any, on them.

A total of 35 bodies were found last year, and 12 have been found so far this year, a coast guard official said.

“The number of vessels found floating in waters off the northwestern coasts of Japan may increase further as northwest winds blow in the Sea of Japan in the winter,” the agency official said.