AOMORI – Numerous wooden boats believed to have drifted from North Korea to Tohoku’s Sea of Japan coast have been left where they washed up as local residents lack the financial resources to dispose of them.
Local governments cannot keep pace with the number of abandoned boats, some of which arrive carrying human remains.
The Japan Coast Guard has confirmed more than 80 such dilapidated and deserted boats have arrived since last November on the shores of Aomori, Akita and Yamagata prefectures.
Residents and authorities want the boats removed as they are an eyesore that could have a negative impact on tourism, while local fishermen complain of oil leaks and having their nets caught up in the abandoned vessels.
According to the Environment Ministry, removing a boat — which is treated as industrial waste, with the wood and metal divided up and disposed of by contractors — costs around ¥1 million.
Municipal governments have used money earmarked for the disposal of oceanic debris, but with North Korean boats continuing to arrive on their shores, their budgets have all but dried up.
The central government can provide funds to subsidize the entire cost of the removal but the process for applying for the additional funds takes a considerable amount of time. If the removal work starts prior to the approval, the full cost falls to the local government, making it difficult for a quick resolution.
Since November, 12 boats believed to be from North Korea have washed up in Fukaura, Aomori Prefecture, upsetting residents like Kazunobu Shibata, 67, who found a large vessel on the beach behind his house on Nov. 20. The boat remained moored on site by the Japan Coast Guard as of Wednesday.
“I see it from morning to night and want it to be taken away as soon as possible,” Shibata said.
In Fukaura, where most of the 12 derelict boats have yet to be removed, tourists who ride the popular Resort Shirakami train along the scenic coastal route by the Sea of Japan have their view marred by three deteriorating boats.
Numerous reports have been made by concerned tourists, leading a town official to say, “We don’t want the boats to be seen by tourists.”
Another official of a coastal municipality called on the central government to facilitate the swift removal of boats following their discovery.