The Japan Coast Guard yesterday said it had rescued about 60 crew members from a North Korean fishing vessel that collided with a Japanese Fisheries Agency patrol vessel that was chasing it out of the nation’s exclusive economic zone.
“We don’t know how many were onboard in the first place, but we were informed that more than 20 were rescued. It appears probably no one else is left in the water,” Japan Coast Guard official Satoshi Kuwahara said.
The early-morning incident occurred 350km northwest of the Noto Peninsula, in an area known as Yamatotai.
Photo: EPA-EFE / Japan Coast Guard
The area is disputed between Japan and North Korea, which have no diplomatic ties.
Fisheries Agency officials said that the Japanese patrol ship had no major damage and was able to move on its own.
The North Korean ship sank about 30 minutes after the collision, the coast guard said.
Some of its aircraft and vessels were headed to the area to join the search, it said.
The North Korean boat had made an unauthorized entry into the Japanese zone and the collision occurred just as the Japanese boat was warning it to move out, Kuwahara told reporters.
Officials are investigating how the two ships collided, he said.
Japan has stepped up patrols in the area in recent years as North Korean squid poaching has surged. This year, ships from the Fisheries Agency and coast guard have been patrolling in the area since May, Kuwahara said.
Japanese fisheries patrolers have issued nearly 500 expulsion orders to poachers, most of them from North Korea, between May and August, the agency said.
Experts say the increase in North Korean squid poaching is due to Pyongyang’s campaign to boost fish harvests.
The poachers are believed to be related to an influx of ghost boats that have washed onto Japan’s northern coast, fisheries officials have said.
In June, the coast guard pushed more than 300 North Korean boats back from the same waters where yesterday’s incident occurred.
Japan also said that an armed North Korean fishing boat aimed a gun at and “threatened” a Japanese patrol ship in August.
Additional reporting by AP
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