The skeletal remains of eight suspected North Koreans have been recovered from the wreckage of a small wooden ship in Japan.
It was found by police in Kanazawa – the capital of Japan’s central Honshu Island – last week alongside one body, with bad weather initially preventing officers from examining the scene more closely.
Seven more bodies were found when the coastguard returned on Monday and police believe they came from North Korea, with state broadcaster NHK reporting that a badge depicting former leader Kim Jong Il and founder Kim Il Sung was also discovered.
“It is difficult to identify the bodies as they had begun to decompose,” said senior police official Hiroshi Abe.
“We spotted a tobacco box which carries some Korean letters, but we can’t confirm the boat came from North Korea.”
The grim finding is the latest in a spate of similar accidents, which experts say could be down to food shortages in the rogue state.
Eight decomposed bodies were found in the remains of another small wooden vessel on the island of Sado in the Sea of Japan back in November, which came just days after two bodies were found on the same beach.
Police and the coastguard believed all of the bodies had come from North Korea, with what appeared to be cigarettes from the country and life jackets with Korean lettering found nearby.
A record total of 104 wooden ships thought to be from the Korean peninsula washed up on Japanese shores last year, compared with 66 in 2016.
The crew is often already dead when they wash ashore, a phenomenon leading them to be referred to in the local media as “ghost ships”.
An increase in the rate of accidents is normally put down to choppier conditions on the water in the autumn and winter months, but some experts have said it could be down to food shortages.
North Korea has been subject to greater sanctions from the United States since President Donald Trump designated it a state sponsor of terrorism.
The UN Security Council also voted unanimously to impose stronger sanctions on Pyongyang in December.