The horror is unfathomable. Ghost ships, adrift at sea for weeks, sometimes even months, continue to wash up on Japan’s hazy western coast stretching hundreds of miles from Fukui prefecture to the top of Hokkaido. Onboard are crews of skeletons, partially or fully decomposed, some only heads, others only limbs. All of them long dead. It’s a grisly scene played out over and over again as hundreds of these boats and their gruesome cargo have been washing ashore in Japan during the last five years – with no end in sight.
The vessels are wooden, no more than 30 or 40 feet long. They’re very old and very heavy. They have flat-bottomed hulls which are usually encased in black tar. Their engines are rusty and obsolete and there are no high-tech features such as GPS navigation systems or marine radios. A typical boat has fishing hooks strewn around the cabin. A pack of cigarettes and an occasional frying pan are found along with small lights used to catch squid. The dead on board are dressed in civilian clothes. All appear to be men though their remains are unrecognizable. Dead for months or more, what killed them is impossible to determine. Their boats are pushed from the Korean peninsula across the Sea of Japan by fierce currents and strong winds from the southwest.
These “ghost ships” started appearing, one after another, in 2011. 65 that year. 47 the next. 80 arrived in 2013 followed by 65 in 2014. 34 were found in 2015 and the unending flotilla continues this year. The dead number in the hundreds though the actual count has not been released. Their names will never be known. Their stories will never be told. When their ships arrive uninvited and unexpected in ports of call up and down the coast, the seamen’s remains are immediately cremated and the ashes left at Buddhist compounds or Soujiji temples. The boats are dismantled and incinerated.
So who are they?
A lot of strange things wash ashore along northwestern Japan. Chinese garbage is carried by strong winds. The occasional body will be discovered in the sand after drifting in from Yaseno, the notorious cliffs which are a favorite jumping-off point for Japanese people intent on suicide. Many speculate that these men are defectors from the evil regime of North Korea. But that makes no sense, since South Korea is much closer by boat than any Japanese shore.
No, it’s been determined that these men are North Korean fishermen on military boats searching for king crab, sandfish and squid. On the orders of Kim Jung-Un, they’ve been taking impossible risks and fishing much farther out in the sea than usual. Their Great Leader is demanding bigger catches to feed his starving citizens. Kim Jong-Un has been photographed at fishing facilities around North Korea threatening fisherman to boost production. North Korean fishermen are allowed to keep any surplus they generate above the targets set by the state. And as most are so poor, they will do just about anything to improve their own existence. So they risk their lives to feed their families. The vessels are ill-equipped to withstand the heavy seas. If they were blown off course or headed too far off shore, they would lose their bearings and literally be lost at sea. With little food on board in the winter months, some are unlucky and die of starvation or exposure. It’s as simple as that.
North Korea has made no mention of any missing boats.
It’s been said,
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”.
That’s not exactly the way it works in North Korea.
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