Japanese Police Discover "Ghost Ship" With Seven Bodies

Image courtesy Sado Coast Guard Station / Japan Coast Guard

Published Jan 2, 2020 6:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Saturday, police on Sado Island, Japan discovered the wreck of wooden fishing boat containing the remains of between five and seven individuals. The wooden vessel has Korean markings on the hull and is believed to be from North Korea, like the many other "ghost ship" fishing boats that wash up on Japanese shores each winter. 

The boat was broken in two, and its stern contained five bodies and two heads, according to initial reports from the Japan Coast Guard. The agency later reported the discovery as a total of seven "partially skeletonized" bodies. Five were identified as male; the remaining two could not be identified. 

“There have been similar cases but this was the first discovery of bodies in such a wrecked boat on this island this year," a Japan Coast Guard official told The Guardian.

According to Yomiuri Shimbun, the casualty rate for North Korean fishing vessels is high. Over the course of 2019, more than 150 suspected North Korean boats were found aground or adrift in Japanese waters, setting a new record. Analysts attribute these unusual losses to multiple factors - small and aging vessels, limited maintenace, lack of communications and navigation equipment, and high government-mandated catch quotas that force fishermen to venture out onto the high seas. 

Additionally, the international sanctions on the regime of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and the historically low North Korean crop harvest in 2018-19 have both contributed to food shortages. The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights estimated in May 2019 that about 40 percent of the North Korean population lacked access to adequate nutrition. The shortage is believed to have raised pressure on officials to increase seafood catch numbers in order to help fill the gap.