North Korean fishing boats continue to turn up near Japan's Hokkaido Island. North Korean fishermen are required to fulfill state quotas for seafood production. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 12 (UPI) -- A record number of North Korean "ghost ships" have been identified near the coast of Japan in 2018, according to Tokyo's coast guard on Monday.
A total of 89 vessels from North Korea, either wrecked or deserted, have been located in Japanese territorial waters, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.
In recent months, the boats have been emerging on Japan's western flank in the Sea of Japan, which faces the Korean Peninsula.
From January to November 2017, a total of 59 North Korean boats appeared near Japanese shores.
Most of the boats found do not include crew, but a total of 12 corpses have been found in five of the cases, according to the Yomiuri.
Weather patterns appear to be driving the boats toward Japan, and more boats are discovered in the autumn and winter months than in the spring and summer. About 80 percent of all boat discoveries took place near the northernmost island of Hokkaido in 2018.
The most recent ghost ship appeared on Nov. 1, near the northern end of Hokkaido. The wooden fishing boat measured about 15 meters in length, Japan's coast guard said.
North Korean fishermen are under intense state pressure to fulfill fishing quotas for the Kim Jong Un regime.
Lee Young-hwa, a professor of economics at Kansai University, told the Japanese newspaper North Korean fish is sold to private Chinese traders.
As the long-term effect of sanctions hit Pyongyang, North Korea is securing Chinese currency through the seafood trade, Lee said.
In Tokyo, the Japanese defense ministry continues to warn against North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.
Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said Monday North Korea retains hundreds of ballistic missiles following the June U.S.-North Korea summit, Kyodo News reported.
The situation has not changed, he said.