JAPAN is blaming China after hundreds of ‘ghost boats’ washed up on their shore – including some which contained skeletons.
Almost 600 of the ghost vessels have been found in the last five years, and 150 in the last year alone.
One of the most grim discoveries came in December 2019 when officials found the heads of two people and the partially-skeletonised bodies of five as a wooded ship floated to Japan’s Sado island.
A new investigation by NBC News and Global Fishing Watch (GFW) has compiled the data and collected startling anecdotes.
This includes the story of one Japanese coastguard who says more than 50 North Koreans have washed up on beaches in the past two years.
The reason for the ‘ghost boats’ is China has sent a previously invisible armada of industrial boats to illegally fish in North Korean waters, researchers claim.
This caused desperate North Korean fishermen to risk their lives by going further out to sea in unsafe boats, which became overwhelmed by the harsh waves and swept away.
The Kim Jong-un regime is believed to have put more pressure on the fishermen amid food shortages.
In fact so many fisherman have now disappeared at sea that some port towns are called ‘widows’ villages’.
At least 50 survivors have been rescued and interviewed in the last seven years by Japanese authorities, but they have reportedly refused to answer most questions and demanded to be returned to the secretive country of North Korea.
The ‘dark fleets’ of Chinese ships do not publicly broadcast their location or appear in public monitoring systems, according to the Guardian.
For a long time, the ghost ships containing corpses or skeletons in fishing grounds in the Sea of Japan was a mystery.
It was originally believed that climate change had forced squid from their natural location, forcing North Koreans to go further at sea and become stranded until they died from dehydration or starvation.
Many boats that washed up on shore had no-one on board, leaving Japan suspicious that they were carrying spies or even people who travelled there to spread a disease.
GFW are a non-profit organisation campaigning for transparency in the fishing industry.
They said more than 900 Chinese vessels fished illegally in the region in 2017, and 700 in 2018.
The group also believe China likely breached UN sanctions that prohibit foreign fishing in North Korea’s territorial waters.
Jaeyoon Park, a data scientist from Global Fishing Watch, told NBC News: “This is the largest known case of illegal fishing perpetrated by a single industrial fleet operating in another nation’s waters.”
But China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed in response that they “consistently punished” illegal fishing.
It did not admit or deny sending its boats into North Korean waters.
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