A flotilla of the ghost boats — at least 14 of them, carrying more than 30 decomposing corpses — has washed ashore since late last year along a 1,000-mile stretch of the west coast, leaving Japanese investigators puzzled. Who were these people? What happened to them?Who were they? Defectors? Criminals executed in a hideous way? Or maybe just fishermen:
The boats bore unmistakable signs of North Korean origin. Their hulls were emblazoned with painted numbers and Korean script; one was marked "State Security Department," and another "Korean People's Army." A tattered North Korean flag flew from one of the boats, the newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported. A backpack, found on another, had a pin bearing the portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011.
All of those on board appeared to be male, though some were so badly decomposed investigators couldn't be certain. All wore civilian clothing. Autopsies found that they had been dead for about two months, but the cause of death was elusive.
Satoru Miyamoto, a North Korea expert at Japan's Seigakuin University near Tokyo, said that the men on board were probably fishermen. By studying photographs of the boats and the vessels' numbers, he deduced they probably belonged to the North Korean military's commercial branch.The existence of North Korea undermines every optimistic thought about humanity.
The basis for those conclusions might be found in a series of undated photographs released in November of dictator Kim Jong Un touring a military fishery base, grinning and examining blocks of frozen fish.
Workers, Kim said, should "realize their lifetime desire by catching more fish for the servicepersons and civilians," according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
"So the military has been sending soldiers out onto the sea to fish," Miyamoto said. "But the soldiers don't have any training, so they sometimes get lost at sea."