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Many boats likely from N. Korea left neglected on Japan coast

AOMORI, Japan (Kyodo) -- Many wooden boats believed to have drifted from North Korea to the Sea of Japan coast in the northeast have been left neglected on site against the desire of local residents due to a lack of financial resources.

Local governments cannot keep pace with the number of boats arriving every winter across the Sea of Japan. There have been a string of cases in which bodies often reduced to skeletons have been discovered in the vessels.

The Japan Coast Guard has confirmed more than 80 such dilapidated and deserted boats have arrived since last November on the shores of Aomori, Akita and Yamagata prefectures.

On Sunday, a fishing boat with a broken engine with two men claiming they were from North Korea was found floating off Fukaura, Aomori Prefecture.

Local residents and authorities want the boats removed as they are an eye-sore that affects tourism, while local fisherman complain of oil leakages and having their nets caught up in the abandoned vessels.

According to the Environment Ministry, removing a boat -- which is treated as industrial waste with the wood and metal divided up and disposed of by contractors -- costs around 1 million yen ($9,000).

Municipal governments have used money budgeted for the disposal of oceanic debris for this purpose, but with the number of North Korean boats arriving on these shores not letting up, many are looking at the bottom of the barrel.

The central Japanese government can subsidize the whole cost but the process for applying for the additional funds takes considerable time. If the removal work starts prior to the approval, the full cost falls to the local government, making it difficult for a quick resolution.

Since last November, 12 boats believed to be from North Korea have been washed up in Fukaura, upsetting residents like Kazunobu Shibata, 67, who found a large vessel on the beach behind his house on Nov. 20. The boat has remained moored on site by the Japan Coast Guard as of Wednesday.

"I see it from morning to night and want it to be taken away as soon as possible," Shibata said.

In Fukaura, where most of the 12 derelict boats have yet to be removed, tourists who ride the popular "Resort Shirakami" train along the scenic coastal route by the Sea of Japan have their view marred by three deteriorating boats.

Numerous reports have been made by concerned tourists, leading a town official to say, "We don't want the boats to be seen by tourists."

Another official of a coastal municipality called on the central government to facilitate the swift removal of boats following their discovery.

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