In an apparent desperate attempt to flee North Korea, a small wooden boat carrying nine passengers was spotted in the Sea of Japan off the Noto Peninsula on Sept. 13 and all passengers were taken into custody by the Japan Coast Guard.
The 9th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters dispatched a patrol vessel after receiving a report on the boat, suspected of coming from North Korea, at 7:26 a.m. from a local fishing boat.
"We saw an unfamiliar boat with Korean letters on its side," the fishing boat crew reported.
The Coast Guard detected the boat about 16 kilometers east-northeast of Wajima Port in Ishikawa Prefecture at around 9 a.m. the same day. The boat was stopped by the Coast Guard, and the nine passengers were taken into custody at 9:30 a.m.
According to the Japan Coast Guard and the 9th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters, there were three men, three women and three children in the boat. No injuries or illnesses among the passengers were reported.
The passengers said the boat departed from North Korea, and a man who claimed to be in charge of the group said, "We want to go to South Korea," according to the Coast Guard.
The Japan Coast Guard is investigating the nationalities of the passengers.
The 8-meter-long wooden boat was being powered by an engine when the patrol vessel caught up with it. Rice and pickles were found in the boat, but the passengers had run out of drinking water.
When a cameraman looked down on the scene from an Asahi Shimbun news helicopter, the smaller wooden craft was pulled alongside the patrol boat, and Coast Guard officers were searching the vessel, which had no cabins. Two other patrol vessels, including a large one capable of carrying a helicopter, were on the scene watching for any further activity.
"I'm not surprised to hear the news," an official at Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, a Tokyo-based nongovernmental organization, said. "Food shortages have become so serious in Pyongyang during the last two or three years that even senior government officials cannot afford to eat properly.
"The refugees probably wanted more food, but you will have to slip through rigorous inspections by the Coast Guard if you plan to get out of North Korea by way of sea. The refugees may be a family that has connections to military officers," the official said.
Yoshihiko Yamada, professor of maritime policies at Tokai University, said, "They may have reached waters near Noto Peninsula by making use of the northwesterly monsoons, which begin to blow in autumn, and ocean currents to save on fuel."
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