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08:12

Japan: North Korean 'ghost ships' full of corpses keep washing ashore in Japan

Japan, Oga
January 29, 2018 at 16:39 GMT +00:00 · Published

A small number of wooden boats containing unidentified deceased sailors, assumed to be North Korean fishermen, have often been found washed up on the shores of Oga, a city in Akita Prefecture which juts out into the sea.This year, however, has seen a dramatic rise in the number of dead bodies found aboard wooden boats washed up on the shores of Japan. According to the Japanese Coast Guard, 35 corpses have washed up since December 28, with 103 wooden boats drifting onto Japanese shores or discovered in its territorial waters. Thirteen of the dead bodies have remained unidentified.On November 26, eight corpses, some of which were partly skeletal, were discovered on a wooden boat in Oga, with two more skeletal remains found washed ashore on December 7, when temperatures remained below freezing. North Korean fisherman have also been found alive aboard their vessels. Oga's authorities have requested that the Tosenji temple temporarily accept the remains of the unidentified dead sailors, whose ashes have been kept in urns, alongside some DNA samples, in case North Korea or family members ever need to identify the deceased.The Buddhist Priest in charge of the Tosenji temple, Ryosen Kojima, keeps the blank urns in the temple following the cremation of the bodies by local authorities. Kojima chants funeral sutras for the deceased in the temple's main hall every day after his father began the practice of offering prayers for the unidentified dead in 1960.After one year has passed, the remains are buried at a grave for the unknown in Oga overlooking the Sea of Japan.As to why the number of dead fishermen has risen, a number of theories abound. Some Japanese media outlets suggest that Western sanctions against North Korea have forced the nation's fishemen to work harder to increase food supplies. As a result, goes the theory, they are forced to go further distances out to sea in dangerous conditions, as well as to use old equipment and boats. Others have pointed to reported booming North Korean fish exports to neighbouring China, a trade which may have induced fishermen to take greater risks to increase their catch.

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Description

A small number of wooden boats containing unidentified deceased sailors, assumed to be North Korean fishermen, have often been found washed up on the shores of Oga, a city in Akita Prefecture which juts out into the sea.This year, however, has seen a dramatic rise in the number of dead bodies found aboard wooden boats washed up on the shores of Japan. According to the Japanese Coast Guard, 35 corpses have washed up since December 28, with 103 wooden boats drifting onto Japanese shores or discovered in its territorial waters. Thirteen of the dead bodies have remained unidentified.On November 26, eight corpses, some of which were partly skeletal, were discovered on a wooden boat in Oga, with two more skeletal remains found washed ashore on December 7, when temperatures remained below freezing. North Korean fisherman have also been found alive aboard their vessels. Oga's authorities have requested that the Tosenji temple temporarily accept the remains of the unidentified dead sailors, whose ashes have been kept in urns, alongside some DNA samples, in case North Korea or family members ever need to identify the deceased.The Buddhist Priest in charge of the Tosenji temple, Ryosen Kojima, keeps the blank urns in the temple following the cremation of the bodies by local authorities. Kojima chants funeral sutras for the deceased in the temple's main hall every day after his father began the practice of offering prayers for the unidentified dead in 1960.After one year has passed, the remains are buried at a grave for the unknown in Oga overlooking the Sea of Japan.As to why the number of dead fishermen has risen, a number of theories abound. Some Japanese media outlets suggest that Western sanctions against North Korea have forced the nation's fishemen to work harder to increase food supplies. As a result, goes the theory, they are forced to go further distances out to sea in dangerous conditions, as well as to use old equipment and boats. Others have pointed to reported booming North Korean fish exports to neighbouring China, a trade which may have induced fishermen to take greater risks to increase their catch.

M/S North Korean 'ghost ship' fishing vessel washed ashore in Oga, Akita prefecture

W/S North Korean fishing vessel

M/S North Korean fishing vessel

M/S North Korean fishing vessel

W/S Docked ships

W/S Fisherman from Oga, Hiyama Hiromi

SOT, Hiyama Hiromi, Fisherman from Oga, Akita (Japanese): "Over there, there was the ship that was washed ashore, in the Kusakata area. These both happened at the same time, but in the ship over there, was six or seven North Korean people still alive and they were rescued."

M/S Hiyama Hiromi *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Hiyama Hiromi, Fisherman from Oga, Akita (Japanese): "How do I think of it? Absurd! During this period, the Sea of Japan is quite stormy, around the month of December, so after all, it is impossible to operate that kind of ship because the sea is too stormy."

W/S Hiyama Hiromi *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Hiyama Hiromi, Fisherman from Oga, Akita (Japanese): "If the ship is sufficiently well equipped, the boat can adjust to the stormy weather, but it is kind of absurd, with that kind of ship it is just impossible."

M/S North Korean fishing vessel *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Hiyama Hiromi, Fisherman from Oga, Akita (Japanese): "I feel sorry for their families, but they worked for their country. There will be no help for it. To go for fishing is to dedicate to their country [North Korea] more than for their families."

M/S North Korean fishing vessel *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Hiyama Hiromi, Fisherman from Oga, Akita (Japanese): "Three or four years ago, three years ago maybe, there was a ship washed ashore here, just like this one, and there was a corpse which had become a skeleton inside. There were three or four dead bodies which were skeletons. The ship had been there, but had already reached, I guess."

C/U North Korean fishing vessel *CUTAWAY*

"It overturned there ..." [pointing to ship]

SOT, Hiyama Hiromi, Fisherman from Oga, Akita (Japanese): "They came by such a ship. It is to say geographically reckless. It is a reckless idea to sail here using such a ship"

W/S Hiromi climbs close to crashed ship *CUTAWAY*

W/S Hiyama Hiromi, Fisherman from Oga, Akita surveys damaged vessel

W/S Docked vessels

W/S Department of Living Environment at Oga City Hall, Akita Prefecture

M/S Ito Fumioki, Head chief of Department of Living Environment at Oga City Hall *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Ito Fumioki, Head chief of Department of Living Environment at Oga City Hall, Akita Prefecture (Japanese): "From April of this year, there have been five boats washed ashore. The city already processed two ships for disposal and there are still three ships that have not yet been processed."

W/S Department of Living Environment at Oga City Hall *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Ito Fumioki, Head chief of Department of Living Environment at Oga City Hall, Akita Prefecture (Japanese): "The Coast Guard and Police investigate together. Are there any corpses inside? What things were left behind? They search these kinds of things."

W/S Department of Living Environment at Oga City Hall *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Ito Fumioki, Head chief of Department of Living Environment at Oga City Hall, Akita Prefecture (Japanese): "For the [ship] disposal, we pull up to the shore and dismantle it to make it easier to carry. Because they are wooden vesels, we bury the wooden parts or incinerate them."

W/S Department of Living Environment at Oga City Hall *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Ito Toru, Head chief of Welfare Office at Oga City, Akita Prefecture (Japanese): "At the coast of Miyazawa Beach, there were eight dead bodies discovered inside a ship that had washed ashore. In that time, the Coast Guard was the one to collect the corpses and handle them for judicial autopsies."

M/S Office *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Ito Toru, Head chief of Welfare Office at Oga City, Akita Prefecture (Japanese): "We keep parts of the bodies in case someone wants to conduct DNA identification to identify the corpses. Their nails are kept for DNA identification."

W/S Office *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Ito Toru, Head chief of Welfare Office at Oga City, Akita Prefecture (Japanese): "Since this year begun, when I think of how many corpses are being washed ashore like this in our city, I feel sad. Wherever they were from, it means many people died at sea, so I think, I feel sorry for them very much and I feel sad."

W/S Office *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Ito Toru, Head chief of Welfare Office at Oga City, Akita Prefecture (Japanese): "Our task is to cremate the corpses that are unidentifiable, but no such case of incident, and we keep the ashes for a while."

W/S Office *CUTAWAY*

SOT, Ito Toru, Head chief of Welfare Office at Oga City, Akita Prefecture (Japanese): "The ashes are still in our jurisdiction, for that stage, we asked the temple, called Tosenji, to keep them."

W/S Tosenji temple

M/S Head priest of Tosenji temple Ryosen Kojima chanting Buddhist funeral sutras for North Korean dead

M/S Urns containing ashes of dead North Korean sailors

M/S Buddhist Priest chanting

C/U Urns

M/S Buddhist Priest chanting

C/U Buddhist Priest chanting

C/U Urns

W/S Tosenji temple in Oga, Akita prefecture

M/S Statue outside Tosenji temple

C/U Statue outside Tosenji temple

W/S Tosenji temple overlooking Sea of Japan in Oga, Akita prefecture

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