SEOUL, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Kim Jong Un recognized North Korean fishing workers of the People's Army for their contributions to the regime.
The award ceremony comes after weeks of reports Japan's Coast Guard has discovered several North Korean boats, 16 in total, containing bodies with no survivors on board.
North Korea's state-controlled outlet KCNA reported Tuesday Kim personally conferred the awards to members of the third fisheries section of the Korean People's Army at the headquarters of the Workers' Party Central Committee.
This is the third time Kim has recognized the military's fisheries department. In 2013 and December 2014 Kim previously had awarded the group citations for being "model cadres," Yonhap reported.
On Tuesday Kim praised the recipients and said the group had carried out a "rare achievement" by meeting its fishing quota despite "adverse conditions at sea" and "inclement weather." He also said they were "absolute believers in Party policy."
North Korea typically exports most of its fish to China, but Pyongyang is increasingly directing more of its fisheries toward domestic consumption. The push to ramp up production could be behind the emergence of "ghost ships" off Japan's coast, as more fisherman set out on vessels not suitable for fishing in the high seas.
Japan's Asahi Shimbun reported Monday North Koreans have been able to register privately owned fishing ships as military vessels since 1995. Many set out to sea in hopes of earning foreign currency, a 57-year-old North Korean defector told Japan press.
The defector who spoke on the condition of anonymity said he directly operated 6 such vessels from the North Korean city of Chongjin until the mid-2000s. The ships were not confiscated as long as the fishermen or the proprietor provided steady kickbacks to North Korean authorities. Some ships were estimated to bring in $500,000 annually, the defector said.