A fishing boat carrying the skeletal remains of eight individuals was found on the northwestern coast of Japan late last week, leading to speculation that its crew may have originated from North Korea.
The bodies were found inside of a 7-meter-long wooden boat first spotted drifting along Miyazawa beach on Friday, the Japan Times reported, citing the Japanese Coast Guard. The beach faces North Korea's eastern shore, with the Sea of Japan separating the two countries.
Authorities searched the vessel on Sunday and again on Monday, after being delayed by poor weather. The identities and genders of the bodies found remained unknown due to their decomposed state, but items onboard the vessel had Korean script on them, Kyodo News reported.
Outlets are calling the vessel a "ghost ship," a common term for an unmanned boat, or a boat with bodies on board.
A 68-year-old woman, who described seeing bodies being carried off on stretchers, said the vessel was in obvious disrepair.
"I was surprised to see the boat in such a bad condition," the woman told Kyodo News.
This grim discovery is similar to others made this month.
Over the weekend, the partly skeletonized bodies of two men were found along the coast of Sado Island, located in the Sea of Japan. Though the men's nationalities were not immediately known, the Coast Guard said they were found with what appeared to be North Korean cigarettes and life jackets printed with Korean lettering, Reuters reported.
On Friday, the same day as the ship was first spotted, eight North Korean men were also found near a boat in northern Japan's Akita Prefecture. The men said they were fishing when their boat ran into trouble, and that they are not defectors.
One week earlier, on Nov. 15, three North Korean men were rescued from two capsized boats off the coast of Ishikawa Prefecture in central Honshū, Japan's main island. Seven bodies were also recovered from the scene. The rescued men were sent back to their county on a North Korean vessel, Reuters reported.
On Nov. 13, a North Korean soldier dramatically defected across the country's southern border, during which he was shot five times by his former comrades.