Eight decomposed bodies have washed up on a Japanese beach in a small wooden ship – raising speculation they could have come from North Korea.
The vessel was found by the Japan Coast Guard on Monday, just days after two similarly skeletal male bodies were found on the same western shore of Sado – an island in the Sea of Japan.
Local police and the coast guard believe the two bodies found over the weekend may have been from North Korea, which is 450 miles from the shore, with what appeared to be cigarettes from the country and life jackets with Korean lettering found nearby.
The officials are working to confirm where they – and the eight found on Monday – came from.
Last week, eight fishermen who claimed to be from North Korea were found 44 miles south of Monday’s discovery, with their boat appearing to have run into trouble during what is a season of hostile weather.
Professor Yoshihiko Yamada, from Japan’s Tokai University, said: “During the summer, the Sea of Japan is quite calm. But it starts to get choppy when November comes. It gets dangerous when northwesterly winds start to blow.”
Other experts have said the recent accidents could be down to food shortages in North Korea, with smaller and older ships forced to sail beyond its coastal waters.
Seo Yu-suk, research manager of North Korean Studies Institution in Seoul, said the rogue state – subject to greater sanctions from the United States after President Donald Trump designated it a state sponsor of terrorism – was pushing “so hard” for its people to gather more fish to make up for the shortage.
Forty-four wooden ships believed to be from the Korean peninsula have washed up on Japanese shores – or drifted off the country’s coast – so far this year, compared to 66 in the whole of 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”.