The identities of the corpses found aboard a capsized fishing boat off the Japan sea coast last month will be forever shrouded in mystery. The remains have been cremated, the ashes unclaimed. Soon the rickety wooden vessel that took its occupants to their deaths will be destroyed too.
Their 12m boat now rests on a wharf in the city of Fukui, its bow encrusted with shells and algae, the ripped traces of what appears to be a sail trailing from its stern.
For weeks - possibly months - it drifted south through the perilous stretch of water separating Japan from the Korean peninsula, before being spotted by fishermen approximately 60 miles (100km) off the coast.
Numbers on the side of a wooden boat found drifting off the coast of Fukui prefecture. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Numbers on the side of the wooden boat. Photograph: Justin McCurry for the Guardian Inside, coastguard officials made a grim discovery: the skeletons and badly decomposed bodies of seven people dressed in clothes that bore labels written in Korean Hangul script. Alongside them was squid-fishing equipment and empty plastic bottles and cigarette packets.
They represent just one piece in the "ghost ship" puzzle that Japanese authorities have conceded may never be solved. The poor condition of the boat, the lack of equipment and, in one case, the discovery of a Kim Jong-il lapel badge all point to one country of origin: North Korea.
In the past two months at least a dozen suspected North Korean boats carrying the remains of 27 people have been found drifting off Japan's coast.
Some believe those on the boats were defectors; others speculated they were spies. But the most plausible explanation is less dramatic: that they are the victims of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's latest bid to boost seafood production amid expected food shortages among his 1.2-million-strong army and the promise of more foreign currency from lucrative exports to China.
source by theguardian