Fishing boats carrying corpses have been found washed up or floating adrift off Japan’s east coast.
Up to a dozen ships holding more 22 corpses have been discovered in recent weeks.
The boats are suspected to be North Korean. Some carry markings which show they belong to the country’s army units.
It’s unlikely the bodies belong to would-be defectors, who traditionally prefer an overland route into China or, if they choose to go by sea, stick to the coast and make for South Korea.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has made it very clear that large fish hauls are essential to feeding North Korea’s defence personnel.
He toured one large fishery last week working under the KPA Unit 549 just after it had caught “thousands of tonnes” of fish in just a few days.
On that basis, Kim called on the station to “set a high goal for remarkably increasing the yearly output of fish in a short span of time”.
As recognition for its efforts, he promised to modernise the station.
Boosting food production has been a priority for Kim almost since the day he took office. As well as feeding its citizens, seafood is the country’s biggest export market to China outside of iron ore and coal, bringing precious foreign currency back in.
Fishermen are hired by the army, and therefore wear the brunt of the increased demand.
But according to Kim Do-hoon, a professor of fisheries science at Bukyong National University in Busan, the boats are simply not made for navigating far into the 1000km stretch of sea between North Korea and Japan.
“North Korean boats perform really poorly, with bad engines, risking lives to go far to catch more,” he told Reuters.
“Sometimes they drift and fishermen starve to death.”
Earlier this year, a video of a “Graveyard of North Korea fishing boats” surfaced on YouTube showing deserted hulls washed up in the sand or out at sea off Russia’s south-east coast.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.