The past two months have seen a fleet of at least 11 “ghost ships” appear off the coast of Japan. The wooden boats, some with decomposing bodies on board, have been found and towed ashore by Japanese authorities over October and November. In all, the ghost ships have been found to contain up to 20 bodies on board between them.
Many of the ghost ships show signs of having been badly damaged, leading some to believe that they are the remnants of a fleet caught in a recent storm, but their lack of electronic equipment and any of the standard paperwork usually carried by ocean going vessels has made it very difficult to identify the origin or nationality of the ships. The bodies found on board have been badly decomposed, some even skeletonised, which would indicate that these ghost ships have been drifting for quite some time.
None of the bodies have been identified.
One of the boats was spotted approximately 54 nautical miles off the Japanese coast on Tuesday, in the Sea of Japan. Coast guard cutters were dispatched and towed the ghost ship into Fukui, a northern sea port roughly 250 miles north of Tokyo. Three bodies were found on board. An investigation is currently under way to determine where the ghost ships have come from, but speculation on Japanese media is already pointing toward North Korea as a likely point of origin. It is known that North Korea has recently widened the range of its fishing fleets in the wake of food shortages within the secretive country. It is known that several North Korean fishing vessels have recently been lost, owing to their antiquated design and lack of modern navigational equipment, such as GPS.
The discovery of tangled ropes, lines and what appear to be fishing gear on the ghost ships lends weight to the idea that these are North Korean fishing vessels. Some news agencies, such as the New Zealand Herald are reporting that Korean writing was visible on some of the ghost ships. While the fishing boat theory is favored by many, the sheer fact of distance has some commentators skeptical of the possibility. North Korea is over 600 miles away from Japan, which is a very long distance for boats of this kind to travel. This has led some to speculate that the boats may have been a refugee fleet fleeing the repressive North Korean regime. A steady stream of refugees and defectors make its way south over land as well as by sea, and this group of ghost ships may have been lost trying to escape the harsh realities of life under Kim Jong Un. A report on News.com suggests that what may be the remains of a North Korean flag were found on one of the ghost ships.
Ordinarily, ships that are intending to leave sovereign waters are required to carry navigational equipment and a whole tranche of documents that would identify both the vessel and any passengers and crew. The apparent lack of any navigational aids, as well as any documentation, would suggest that either these vessels were never meant to leave the coast at their point of origin, or that their purpose was in some way clandestine. This would tend to favor the asylum seeker theory. It is not unknown, however, for vessels fishing outside of their own territorial waters to disguise their origin and identity, especially if they intend to fish inside another nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) without permission.
Illegal immigration to Japan is a little-known phenomenon, but has long been an issue for the largely mono-cultural nation. Japan has seen successive waves of illegal immigration over the past few decades, with waves of Chinese and North Korean immigrants and refugees attracted by Japan’s relative economic prosperity.
[Image via YouTube]