There’s something very odd going on off the coast of Japan; something that sounds more akin to the age of pirates and myth than the 21st century. Over the past two months, at least 12 boats carrying 22 unidentifiable decomposing bodies have been found washed up on the country's northwestern shore.
The occurrence of these “ghost ships” is not unheard of in Japan. In 2014 there were 65 instances reported and the year before there were a massive 80 reports, according to the Japan Times. Although this year, so far, has seen less than the previous years, the recent flurry of ghost ships in the past few months is thought due to particularly cold northwesterly winds combined with the winter weather sinking its teeth in.
Authorities across East Asia are yet to come to any clear conclusion as to what exactly is going on. However, they are pretty certain these boats are from North Korea.
Coast guard official Yoshiaki Hiroto told the Japan Times that the poor condition and small 10-meter (33-foot) ships are more typical of North Korea boat design than that of China or Japan. Additionally, one boat contained equipment and signs written in a Korean script called hangul, including a sign saying “Korean People’s Army,” the North Korean army.
But what’s causing so many of these boats to become stranded with all their crew members dead?
Some believe the ships are from North Korean defectors, looking to escape the notoriously repressive regime of Kim Jong-Un, known for his frequent human rights abuses.
While this might seem the most obvious answer, it’s fairly rare for North Korean defectors to travel via the oceans to Japan. The Daily Beast reports the last group of defectors to reach Japan was four years ago.
Experts believe the sailors are casualties of Kim Jong-Un’s push to increase food production and agriculture after decades of chronic food shortages. Simply tired, overworked, and out of their depth, sailors have been forced to travel further out to sea to reach the demands of their supreme leader.
Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at the Japan campus of Temple University, told the South China Morning Post: "We know that the regime in North Korea is pushing its farmers and fishermen to produce greater amounts of food and, to my mind, the most likely explanation is that these were simply fishermen who were trying to fulfil large quotas and simply ran out of fuel too far out at sea to get home."