Japan is investigating nearly a dozen suspicious boats recently found drifting off its coastline, some with decaying bodies aboard, officials said Friday, amid speculation that they came from North Korea.
At least 11 cases involving wooden boats — some badly damaged — with 20 bodies on board have been reported during October and November, a coast guard spokesman said.
Many of the boats have been towed to Japanese ports, but the bodies are yet to be identified, he said, adding that investigations were ongoing.
On Tuesday, one of the boats was pulled ashore at Fukui port after three sets of remains were found inside when coast guard personnel spotted it some 100 kilometers offshore in the Sea of Japan, private TV channel Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) reported.
The body of water is known as the East Sea in North and South Korea.
TBS said the remains were badly decomposed and partially skeletonized, while NHK said Korean writing was visible on the boats as well as on clothes left inside the vessels.
Experts suspect the vessels are fishing boats from North Korea, as the impoverished state, prone to poor harvests, is trying to expand its fishing industry to bolster food security, NHK said.
But a number of North Korean fishing boats have been lost due to a lack of modern equipment, including Global Positioning System capability, it added.