Fishing boats carrying decomposed corpses have washed ashore in Japan in recent weeks, leading to speculation they are rickety North Korean vessels that have strayed dangerously far from port under the impoverished nation's push to boost its catch.
There has been no mention from secretive North Korea of any missing boats, but its leader, Kim Jong Un, has put a high priority on fishing as a way of earning foreign currency and providing a sustainable food source that is not reliant on harvests and weather.
The Japanese coast guard and police reported 12 incidents of wrecked wooden boats, including some that were in pieces, on the country's shores and waters since October, containing 22 dead bodies, including five skulls.
Japanese authorities declined to comment on the origins of the boats or the possible identities of the dead, but a hand-written sign identified one boat as belonging to unit 325 of the North Korean army, according to footage from Japan's NHK Television. Tattered cloth was found aboard the vessel that appeared to come from the North Korean flag, the video showed.
Defectors and experts say fishing boats under the command of the Korean People's Army may have succumbed under pressure from Kim to catch more fish, drifting off course and ill-equipped for rough seas.