The remains of eight people thought to be from North Korea were reportedly uncovered after a “ghost ship” washed ashore on Japan’s coast last week, containing a badge depicting former North Korean leaders Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung.
Seven decomposed bodies were found in the ship's "small rooms" that washed up in Kanazawa, the coastal city in central Japan, a police official told AFP on Wednesday. Another man’s “badly decomposed” body was found about 50 feet away from the battered boat.
“It is difficult to identify the bodies as they had begun to decompose,” senior police official Hiroshi Abe said. “We spotted a tobacco box which carries some Korean letters, but we can’t confirm the boat came from North Korea.”
The boat was pictured capsized and wrecked on the beach. It took several days for authorities to investigate the scene because of rough seas and bad weather obstructing the investigation.
Though they stopped short of confirming the vessel was from the Hermit Kingdom, officials believe it is the first North Korean “ghost ship” in 2018 to reach the Japanese coast.
The latest discovery deepens the mystery behind the suspected North Korean vessels that keep washing up along the Japanese coast. Officials recorded 104 cases in 2017 where North Korean boats reached Japan’s shore, according to AFP. The majority of them were severely damaged from the rough seas.
Some experts believe the uptick in the “ghost ships” episodes is caused by the severe food shortage in Kim Jong Un’s regime. North Korea was also hit recently with a series of sanctions in retaliation against its nuclear and missile tests.
Toshimitsu Shigemura, professor emeritus of Waseda University and a North Korea expert, previously told AFP the desperation to meet fishing harvest quotas had pushed fishermen to travel farther out. Kim is seeking to make North Korea self-sufficient in food, but its sources of protein continue to fall. The rogue nation remains vulnerable to health problems caused by the lack of a varied, balanced diet.
"Fishermen are desperate to meet annual catch goals, which are elevated to higher levels every year," Shigemura said.
Others speculated about whether North Koreans were looking for a new route to defection. North Koreans typically escape the brutal regime by traveling through China. An estimated 1,000 people flee Kim’s regime each year, and a total of about 30,000 North Koreans have made the treacherous escape since the end of the Korean War.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.