Wooden boats believed to be from North Korea have washed up on Japanese shores or been discovered drifting along the Japanese coast in increasing numbers. According to figures released by the Japan Coast Guard, 28 such cases were recorded in November of this year alone -- a record for a single month -- and they have all taken place as tensions over North Korea have skyrocketed. Naturally, residents in the areas where North Korean ships have been found are ill at ease.
Since last year, fishing boats believed to be from North Korea and China have frequently been seen operating illegally in the Yamato shallows, one of the most lucrative fishing grounds in the Sea of Japan. The wooden boats that have washed up on Japanese shores are likely to have been doing the same. They all measured just 10 meters long or so, and more than a few had been reduced to their frames when they were found.
Strong northwesterly winds from China blow through the Sea of Japan in the winter, causing steep waves. It appears that these fishing boats continued operating into a time of year when the seas are difficult for small vessels to navigate, leading them to drift further and further east to Japan.
What forced these fishermen to make such reckless attempts at fishing?
Because North Korea has sold the fishing rights along its coast to China, it is said that North Korean fishing boats have no choice but to fish in open seas. And yet, the administration of Kim Jong Un has called on fishermen to fish in the wintertime to self-sufficiently secure sources of protein.
Under such circumstances, the impact of United Nations sanctions on Pyongyang for its nuclear development program cannot be ignored.
Some observers point to the possibility that these fishing boats ran into trouble because they were using inferior fuel since sanctions have prevented North Korea from importing petroleum products. Plus, because the North has been banned from exporting seafood to China, products have flooded the domestic market, causing prices to plummet and leading to suffering among North Korean fishermen.
Regardless, the fundamental problem is the international isolation the country has brought upon itself with its nuclear and missile programs.
The Kim administration says that its policy focus is on nuclear development and improving the lives of its citizens. But in reality, the administration's policy of nuclear and missile development has led to the deterioration of the lives of the North Korean public, forcing them to undertake ill-advised fishing excursions.
Electric appliances that were set up inside a hut on Matsumae Kojima island -- an uninhabited islet in Hokkaido that is used by fishing boats as a refuge, and where one of the wooden boats had been moored -- have gone missing, and the crew of the fishing vessel have told Japanese investigators that they took them. Punishment for such illegal actions must be strictly enforced.
Fishing vessels in distress must, of course, be rescued from a humanitarian point of view. However, in the past, vessels with North Korean agents frequently haunted the Sea of Japan. To prevent any unexpected contingencies from occurring, we urge that shoreline security measures be firmly implemented.