North Korean fishermen missing after collision with Japanese patrol vessel

Japan's newly appointed Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries Taku Eto speaks during a press conference. Credit: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

A North Korean boat that was fishing for squid in the Sea of Japan capsized after colliding with a Japanese Fisheries Agency patrol boat, throwing about 20 North Korean fishermen into the sea, Japanese officials said.

The incident happened just after 0900 h Japan time on 7 October 2019, about 346 km northwest of the Noto Peninsula, in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Japan has been patrolling the zone more often to curb illegal fishing.

Taku Eto, minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, said at a press briefing that the North Korean boat had made a sudden turn, causing the collision. Although none of the patrol personnel were hurt, the fate of the North Koreans remains unknown.

The Japan Coast Guard said it has sent patrol ships and aircraft to the site, and rescue activities were under way. A Japanese Fisheries Agency official said the patrol boat had sent a warning to the North Korean vessel, asking it to leave the EEZ.

Japanese authorities are said to be inspecting the North Korean fishing vessel, which suffered water ingress. Many North Korean fishing vessels wash up on Japan’s coast every year, as the government of the isolated nation is pushing for greater catches.

However, North Korea’s old and poorly maintained vessels are prone to mechanical faults and other problems, including running out of fuel, and there are few ways for them to call for help. There have also been instances of North Korean fishing vessels washing up on Japanese shores with the crew on board dead –referred to as “ghost ships” by local media.

In 2018, 10 North Koreans rescued from a tiny wooden boat drifting off northern Japan were deported back to their country.